LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Court of Appeals on Friday reversed a lower court ruling that said late-arriving ballots must be counted, as long as they are postmarked the day before Election Day.
The Republican-controlled Legislature had appealed the September ruling by Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens that said ballots postmarked before Election Day could arrive as much as 14 days late and still be counted.
On Friday, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of the House and Senate in the case involving the union-backed Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans.
The ruling also reversed Stephens on the question of who may lawfully possess another voter’s ballot to give assistance. Stephens said that with a voter’s consent, anyone can help deliver an absentee ballot from 5 p.m. on the Friday before the election until polls close. Under normal state law, only immediate family members or a local clerk, until 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day, can help.
Stephens had ordered the changes for the Nov. 3 election only, citing problems related to the coronavirus pandemic and a slowdown in the U.S. Postal Service.
The Michigan Secretary of State’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office, which were the defendants in the case, opted not to appeal Stephens’ ruling. As a result of that decision, the House and Senate were given legal “standing” to appeal the ruling, instead.
It was not immediately known whether the retiree group would try to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.
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The court ruled that the ballot-handling restrictions are justified in fighting voter fraud, even if such fraud is rare, and numerous steps have already been taken to help absentee voters in light of the pandemic.
“Municipalities across Michigan now have installed more than 700 ballot drop boxes available for absent voters who do not want to use the mail to deliver their ballot, and … there will be more than 1,000 drop boxes available by Election Day,” the ruling said.
“Additionally, satellite election centers embedded in some communities allow eligible persons to register to vote, receive a ballot, vote, and drop off their completed ballot, all on-site.”
Further, the Legislature passed a law to allow clerks to begin processing absentee ballots early, the court said.
“While plaintiffs may view these efforts as inadequate first steps, there is no reason to believe that these specific efforts are constitutionally required, even in the midst of a pandemic.”
Judge Thomas Cameron wrote the majority opinion, joined by Judges Mark Boonstra and Michael Gadola. All three were Republican appointees to the court. Boonstra wrote a separate concurring opinion to blast Stephens for “judicial overreach.”
Laura Cox, chair of the Michigan Republican Party, called the ruling “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,” Cox said in a news release. “I applaud the Michigan Court of Appeals for standing up for the rule of law and the laws passed by the people’s representatives.”
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