A federal appeals court panel decision issued yesterday evening has upended Minnesota’s plan to count absentee ballots up until a week after Election Day. Voters who have not yet returned their mail-in ballots are now being urged to hand deliver them, rather than return them via mail.
On Thursday, Oct. 29, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that any Minnesota absentee ballots that arrive after 8 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, should be separated from other ballots, in case a future order invalidates those votes. The 2-1 decision is a win for Republican challengers to Minnesota’s plan to provide a week-long window to receive late-arriving mailed ballots.
“The Secretary’s instructions to count mail-in ballots received up to seven days after Election Day stand in direct contradiction to Minnesota election law governing presidential elections,” the ruling stated.
The court has not yet ruled whether or not ballots that come in via mail after Election Day are valid.
“Better to put those voters on notice now while they still have at least some time to adjust their plans and cast their votes in an unquestionably lawful way,” the ruling read.
In a press conference this afternoon, Secretary of State Steve Simon said that while last night’s decision is somewhat vague, it mostly requires that absentee ballots be separated into two piles: those that arrive before 8 p.m. on Election Day and those that arrive after.
“As to the pile that came in after that, the court did not say that they are automatically invalidated. What the court did say was they will be in a separate pile,” Simon said. “A campaign—such as a campaign for president—could decide … based on the numbers that we know from Election Day whether to seek to invalidate that segregated pile, and the court signaled that they would have a likelihood of success on the merits.”
Simon also said the decision means that it is now too late to return an absentee ballot via mail.
“I can’t say this enough, and I’m going to keep saying it until I’m blue in the face: the number one thing voters should know is if they have an absentee ballot in hand right now, or they ordered one and it isn’t there yet and they’re about to have it in hand, do not place it in the mail,” he said. “It is too risky at this point. To make sure that it’s counted, it would have to arrive by Tuesday … and that at this point is just too risky.”
Those who have not yet cast their ballots have several options to ensure their votes are counted in Tuesday’s general election. Voters who have already put their ballot in the mail can check their ballot’s status at www.mnvotes.org/track. If their ballot has not been received, they can vote in person, and their mail-in ballot will be voided.
“If it says (the ballot) has not yet been received, then anyone is free to vote in person,” Simon said. “You can override that in-transit vote. You can vote in-person absentee today, tomorrow (Saturday) and on Monday, or you can go to your polling place on Election Day.”
State law requires counties to open for absentee voting tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 31, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Shoreview residents can vote during those times tomorrow at City Hall, as well as 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2. A list of other drop-off locations in Ramsey County can be found at bit.ly/31WAcMb.
“I want to stress as I’ve done throughout the past few weeks and months, but now it takes on greater urgency, that just because you get your ballot sent to you by mail does not mean you have to return it by mail,” Simon said. “Every voters has always been free to hand deliver that ballot to the place where it should go, which is typically a county or city elections office.”
Shoreview residents can drop off their ballots at City Hall through Monday, Nov. 2. On Tuesday, Nov. 3, ballots can only be dropped off at the Ramsey County Elections Office (90 W. Plato Blvd., St. Paul) until 3 p.m.