Minnesota court orders 8 p.m. Election Day deadline for absentee ballots

With five days until the election, a U.S. appeals court in Minnesota ruled Thursday that absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted. The court's opinion overruled a consent decree order that allowed absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day to be counted if they are returned up to seven days after Election Day.

The lawsuit was filed by two of the Republican party's nominees for presidential electors, James Carson and Eric Lucero.

The overruled order — which came after the Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, was sued by the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans Education Fund — was implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as looming concerns with the influx of absentee ballots on the United States Postal Service. 

A district court previously denied Carson and Lucero's request to issue a preliminary injunction against the order to extend the absentee ballot receipt deadline. But the panel of appeals judges ruled that the Secretary's move to modify the receipt deadline "likely violates the Electors Clause of Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution."

"Simply put, the Secretary has no power to override the Minnesota Legislature," the ruling said.

Democrats were swift to condemn the decision. "This last-minute change could disenfranchise Minnesotans who were relying on settled rules for the 2020 election — rules that were in place before the August 11 primary and were accepted by all political parties," Simon said in a statement. "It is deeply troubling that the people who brought the lawsuit, a conservative legislator and presidential elector, would seek to sabotage the system for political gain."

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar tweeted to Minnesotans, telling them to vote in person or return their ballot to a drop box. 

"Because of LAST MINUTE ruling, Minnesota DO NOT put ballots in mail any more," she wrote. "In the middle of a pandemic, the Republican Party is doing everything to make it hard for you to vote."

Minnesota GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan applauded the ruling in a statement.

"The pandemic has caused upheaval in many areas of life but hiding behind the pandemic to manipulate the election process is not democratic, and we appreciate that our laws and interpretation of those laws matter," she said.

Similar to other states, Minnesota has seen a large number of absentee ballot requests. According to data from the Minnesota Secretary of State's office, more than 1.1 million absentee ballots have been returned as of October 23. That number surpasses the total number of absentee ballots Minnesotans cast in the 2016 general election.

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