OPINION | This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


Michigan Court Blocks Ballot Extension

The Democrats suffered a significant loss in the courts as they seek to change the rules around absentee and mail-in voting.

A Michigan Appeals Court ruled against the Democrats as it blocked a lower courts decision to allow a 14-day extension and said that ballots must be received by Election Day, The Associated Press reported.

Any changes must rest with the Legislature, not the judiciary, the Republican-appointed appeals court judges said in a 3-0 opinion.

Absentee ballot extensions in Wisconsin and Indiana have also been overturned by higher courts.

Michigan’s ability to handle a flood of ballots will be closely watched in a state that was narrowly won by President Donald Trump in 2016. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last week said 2.7 million people had requested absentee ballots, a result of a change in law that makes them available to any voter.

Michigan law says absentee ballots must be turned in by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be valid. But Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens had ordered that any ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 could be counted if they arrived within two weeks after the Nov. 3 election.

Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens said that due to the pandemic the state needed flexibility in collecting the ballots.

“The evidence in this case stands uncontroverted and establishes that the mail system is currently fraught with delays and uncertainty in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

The rules were that the ballot had to be postmarked by Nov. 2 but could arrive for as much as two weeks after Election Day.

But the Appeals Court ended that on Friday and said that the ballots have to be received by Election Day.

“Although those factors may complicate plaintiffs’ voting process, they do not automatically amount to a loss of the right to vote absentee,” the court said of the mail delivery issues that “are not attributable to the state.”

The court also undid another part of the Stephen’s decision that said that a non-family member could deliver the ballot in the days before the election if the voter consented.

This is a process sometimes dubbed ballot harvesting and is not legal in many states.

“The constitution is not suspended or transformed even in times of a pandemic, and judges do not somehow become authorized in a pandemic to rewrite statutes or to displace the decisions made by the policymaking branches of government,” Judge Mark Boonstra said in the prevailing opinion.

“Happy to see this unanimous ruling to uphold the integrity of our elections process and reject judicial overreach,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said.

But the Michigan Democrat Party was furious with the court’s decision.

“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,” it said.

For a party that says it wants to preserve the integrity of elections they continue to push for changing the rules.