Election 2020: Michigan ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 must be counted

LANSING – All ballots postmarked as late as the day before Election Day must be counted, even if they arrive after the polls close, so long as they arrive in the mail before election results are certified, a judge has ruled.
Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens made the ruling in a lawsuit brought by the Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans, citing special provisions needed for the current election, due to the coronavirus pandemic and delays in U.S. postal service.
Currently, only ballots that arrive before the polls close on Election Day are counted. Election results do not have to be certified until 14 days after Election Day.
The ruling, which Stephens issued in a 21-page order, is likely to be appealed.
The officers of the Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans are representatives of major unions such as the UAW, AFSCME, the Michigan Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers, according to the group’s website.
Stephens also ruled that, for the Nov. 3 election, voters casting an absentee ballot can get help from anyone they want in returning their ballots to local clerks, but only from the Friday before Election Day to the close of polls. Normally, only certain people are eligible, such as immediate family members and a clerk or clerk’s assistant, are eligible to help someone by returning their absentee ballot.
But Stephens refused a request that voters not be required to supply their own postage when mailing their absentee ballots.
“The unrefuted affidavits and documents compel the conclusion that, in light of delays attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic, mail delivery has become significantly compromised, and the risk for disenfranchisement when a voter returns an absent voter ballot by mail is very real,” Stephens said in her ruling.
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She said the group had presented evidence there have been significant mail delivery delays, especially in Detroit, since the pandemic began, and “many voters were in fact deprived of having their absent voter ballot tallied in the August primary.”
Stephens, who was appointed to the Michigan Court of Appeals in 2008 by former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, said she heard evidence about one case in which a ballot mailed to the clerk’s office in Wyandotte was routed out of state, to Illinois, before arriving late at its intended address.
That was just one of “the over 6,400 otherwise valid ballots that were rejected for having been received after the election day receipt deadline,” she said.
The named defendants in the case – Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel – are likely to be the supportive of the ruling on counting late-arriving ballots. Benson is on record in support of legislation that would allow late-arriving ballots to be counted.
“With the November election quickly approaching, voters and local clerks need certainty – and these decisions provide that,” said Ryan Jarvi, a spokesman for Nessel. “Therefore, we do not intend to appeal, but rather will use this time to educate and inform voters of their rights.”
In court filings, Benson and Nessel said the question of counting late-arriving ballots is already before the Michigan Court of Appeals in a case brought by the Michigan League of Women Voters, and any ruling should await the resolution of that case. On the issue of transporting absentee ballots, they said “the need to limit who may possess another person’s AV ballot is obvious” to ensure the integrity of the absentee voting process.
The Republican-controlled Michigan House and Senate, the Michigan Republican Party, and the Republican National Committee sought to intervene as defendants in the case. Stephens denied the motions to intervene, in a decision upheld by the Michigan Court of Appeals. They GOP entities were allowed to file briefs in opposition to the requested measures, as interested parties, but not as defendants. Their appeal options were not immediately clear.
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