A Michigan state Court of Claims ruling on Friday held that absentee ballots must be counted as long as they were postmarked by November 2 and received within fourteen days. The case was brought by a group of Plaintiffs including the Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans.
The plaintiffs requested injunctive relief in three different issues. First, on the limitation that required ballots to arrive by 8 pm on election day or not be counted. Second, they requested an expansion of voter assistant so that more people may be able to help a voter return their absentee ballot. Finally, they requested that the state provide return postage. In examining the extensive number of affidavits and documents presented as evidence of their claims, the court found that “mail delivery has become significantly compromised, and the risk for disenfranchisement when a voter returns an absent voter ballot by mail is very real.”
Judge Stephens also found that “largely unrefuted expert testimony . . . consistently concluded that incidences of fraud were ‘rare’.” In addition, the May 2020 election, in which almost all ballots were either mailed in or deposited at ballot drop-boxes, had no reports of fraud. The court found that state laws governing the mail-in deadlines for absentee ballots were not facially unconstitutional, however, the Covid-19 pandemic in conjunction with postal delays violate voters’ rights “as applied” for the November election.
According to the ruling, voters whose absentee ballot is postmarked no later than November 2 and which is received within fourteen days after the election will have their votes counted. Judge Stephens also granted a preliminary injunction against Michigan’s voter assistance ban, a law that limits the individuals who are allowed to assist a voter to return their absentee ballots. She found that the law itself would not generally impose a substantial burden on voters, but given the pandemic, the law no longer “pass[es] constitutional muster.” In a very narrow timeframe, from 5:01 PM on Friday prior to the election, up until election day itself, “a voter may select any third party of his or her choosing to render assistance in returning an absent voter ballot.”
As far as the requirement that voters provide their own return postage, Judge Stephens found that, in accord with past precedent, the requirement does not impose more than a slight burden upon voters, and so refused the plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief with respect to that requirement.