Supreme Court: Absentee ballots must be received by election day to count

Judges decline to hear appeal of case, letting rule stand

By: - July 31, 2020 1:04 pm

Michigan ballot | Susan J. Demas

Only absentee ballots that are received by 8 p.m. on election day will be counted — even if they are earmarked for an earlier date. This Michigan Supreme Court decision comes as Michigan has seen historic levels of mail-in voting, thanks to a voting rights constitutional amendment passed in 2018.

In a 4-3 order Friday, the court declined to consider an appeal from a lower court that had reinforced the election day deadline on July 15.

The lawsuit, League of Women Voters v Michigan Secretary of State, was brought in May. The petitioners sought to make absentee votes count as long as they were mailed on or before election day and were received by the clerk’s office within a certain time frame after then.

By not taking up the appeal, the Supreme Court essentially keeps the original deadline in place.

Chief Justice Pro Tem David Viviano and Justices Elizabeth Clement, Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra cast the majority votes. All are GOP-nominated justices.

Justice Richard Bernstein authored the dissenting argument, and was joined by Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Justice Megan Cavanagh. The three justices were nominated by Democrats.

“Although numbers for the upcoming August primary election have not yet been finalized, we know that Michigan voters have already requested many more absentee ballots this year than in past years, and it seems obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic will only increase the number of requests,” Bernstein wrote.

Bernstein then noted how close the margins of victory were in the 2016 presidential election and down-ballot state races, adding: “The plaintiffs here estimate that as a result of the Court of Appeals’ decision, between 41,000 and 64,000 absentee ballots will not be counted.”

According to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, more than 2 million Michigan voters have so far requested absentee ballots and about 900,000 have returned them.

Benson released a statement Friday morning encouraging Michiganders to vote early this weekend and hand in their absentee ballots in person to avoid any mail delays.

“By safely voting in person this weekend at their clerk’s office, voters can cast their ballot early and beat the Election Day rush,” Benson said. “I highly encourage voters to take advantage of their right to cast their ballot at their clerk’s office before Election Day.”

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.