LANSING, Michigan – The Michigan Court of Appeals on Friday overturned a lower court ruling that late ballots must be counted, provided they are postmarked the day before election day.
The Republican-controlled legislature had appealed the September ruling by Michigan Claims Court Judge Cynthia Stephens that postmarked ballots before Election Day could arrive until 14 days late and always be counted.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals on Friday ruled unanimously in favor of the House and Senate in the case involving the union-backed Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans.
The ruling also overturned Stephens on the issue of who can legally own another voter ‘s ballot to help. Stephens said that with the consent of a voter, anyone can help deliver a postal vote from 5 p.m. on the Friday before the election until the polls close. Under normal state law, only immediate family members or a local secretary, until 5 p.m. on the Friday before polling day, can help.
Stephens had ordered the changes only for the November 3 election, citing issues related to the coronavirus pandemic and a slowdown in the US postal service.
The Michigan secretary of state’s office and the attorney general’s office, who were the defendants in the case, chose not to appeal Stephens’ decision. As a result of this ruling, the House and Senate were granted legal “standing” to appeal the ruling.
It was not immediately clear whether the group of retirees would attempt to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.
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The court ruled that the restrictions on the processing of ballots are justified to tackle voter fraud, although such fraud is rare, and many steps have already been taken to help absent voters in light of the pandemic.
“Michigan municipalities have now installed more than 700 ballot boxes available for absent voters who do not wish to use the mail to hand in their ballots, and … there will be more than 1,000 ballot boxes available by polling day, ”according to the ruling told me.
“In addition, integrated satellite voting centers in some communities allow eligible people to register to vote, receive a ballot, vote and cast their completed ballot, all on site.”
In addition, the legislature passed a law allowing clerks to start processing mail-in ballots earlier, the court said.
“While complainants 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 Justices Mark Boonstra and Michael Gadola. All three were Republican representatives at court. Boonstra wrote a separate concurring opinion blaming Stephens for “abuse of justice.”
Laura Cox, president of the Michigan Republican Party, called the decision a “big day for the rule of law.”
“It is important that the rules are not changed during an election to favor one party over another,” Cox said in a press release. “I commend the Michigan Court of Appeals for upholding the rule of law and the laws passed by the people’s representatives.”
Follow Paul Egan on Twitter @ paulegan4
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