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Michigan court overturns absentee ballot extension

A Michigan court overturned an extension that allowed absentee ballots to be received two weeks after Election Day, ruling that the votes must instead be received by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. 

The ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals marks a reversal of a lower court decision and hands a win to Republicans in a crucial swing state, undercutting Democrats’ efforts to ease restrictions on voting in a cycle when the coronavirus pandemic is expected to cause a spike in mail-in ballots.

The lower court had ruled last month that ballots could be counted within two weeks of Election Day if they were postmarked by Nov. 2, batting down arguments from the state's Republican-controlled legislature that the pandemic and slowdowns at the U.S. Postal Service were not adequate reasons to extend the deadline.

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But the appeals court decided differently, arguing that the virus’s spread and mail delivery issues “are not attributable to the state” and noting that “additional ballot deliver[y] options [are] available to absentee voters,” including nearly 1,000 drop boxes and satellite voting sites.

“To be sure, the pandemic has caused considerable change in our lives, but election officials have taken considerable steps to alleviate the potential effects by making no-reason absent voting easier for the 2020 election,” wrote appellate Judges Thomas Cameron, Mark Boonstra and Michael Gadola.

“Although those factors may complicate plaintiffs’ voting process, they do not automatically amount to a loss of the right to vote absentee,” they added of the pandemic and the mail slowdown.

The ruling echoes similar decisions that blocked absentee ballot extensions in Indiana and Wisconsin.

Michigan, like many states across the country, is anticipated to see a flood in absentee ballots as votes are cast during the pandemic. The Great Lakes State is a top battleground this year after President TrumpDonald John TrumpStephen Miller: Trump to further crackdown on illegal immigration if he wins US records 97,000 new COVID-19 cases, shattering daily record Biden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll MORE won it by less than 11,000 votes in 2016.

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Democrats have fiercely fought for expanding absentee ballot rules as polls show the party’s base is more willing than Republicans to submit votes by mail.

The GOP hailed the Friday evening ruling, with Republican Party Chair Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielSunday shows - Spotlight shifts to positive tests among Pence aides Republican National Committee chair warns of 'most progressive, radical takeover of our country' if Biden wins Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day MORE calling it “Great news for election integrity!”

“This is a great day for the rule of law. It’s important that the rules aren’t changed during an election to advantage one party over another. I applaud the Michigan Court of Appeals for standing up for the rule of law and the laws passed by the people’s representatives,” tweeted Laura Cox, the chair of the Michigan Republican Party. 

The Michigan Democratic Party said it was disappointed in the decision, but did not clarify if it intends to appeal the ruling.

“Voters should not be punished for delays in the U.S. Postal Service or for unexpected emergencies that could make it a challenge for them to get to the polls on election day. Our courts should be following the example set by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and reinforcing efforts that remove barriers to voting,” said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes.

“The Michigan Democratic Party continues to encourage voters to request an absentee ballot immediately, fill it out when it arrives and return it to their local clerk’s office as soon as possible.”