Appeals court blocks Minnesota rule change allowing weeklong extension for mail-in ballots

In response to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, many states have made changes to the rules for the upcoming elections by way of legislatures, executive decrees, or even court orders.

Minnesota is one states in which an executive official unilaterally changed the rules to allow for an extra week after the election for absentee ballots to be received, but a federal appeals court panel just issued a stay on that provision, as NPR reported.

A 2-1 decision

The ruling hinged on the fact that the allowance had not originated in the state legislature and was likely unconstitutional as a result.

Now, any ballots received after the standard Election Day deadline must be identified and segregated from the other ballots in anticipation of additional court action regarding whether they will ultimately be deemed valid and counted or rejected for being late.

It was a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals that took up the challenge presented by two Minnesota Republicans who would serve as electors if President Donald Trump won the state.

The petitioners challenged the rule change put forward by Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon and, in a 2-1 decision, a 26-page ruling from the appeals court sided with their argument.

A majority opinion explained the position that the two GOP electors had standing in the case and that the lower district court was wrong in allowing the rule change to stand.

“Not the province of a state executive official”

State statute dictates that all ballots must be received by Election Day without exceptions. A lawsuit filed in July prompted Simon to reach an agreement allowing for an extra week for ballots to be received, provided they were postmarked by Nov. 3.

That agreement was subsequently granted approval by a state court, but the state legislature never weighed in on the matter.

“However well-intentioned and appropriate from a policy perspective in the context of a pandemic during a presidential election, it is not the province of a state executive official to re-write the state’s election code, at least as it pertains to selection of presidential electors,” the judges wrote in reference to the statutory deadlines in question.

Simon was firmly opposed to the decision, which he decried as a “tremendous and unnecessary disruption to Minnesota’selection, just days before Election Day,” as reported by WCCO.

For its part, the Minnesota Republican Party issued a statement of support: “We applaud the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals for upholding the integrity of the election and affirming Election Day as November 3rd. 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.”

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