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State and national Republicans sue Michigan over extended ballot deadline

Michigan Republicans have proposed a 39-bill package of reform bills they say will make voting easier and cheating harder. Michigan clerks say they wish they’d been consulted before the legislation was written. (Bridge file photo)

State and national Republicans are suing Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in an attempt to halt a decision released late last week that would allow ballots received after Election Day to count this November as long as they’re postmarked by the day before the election. 

The lawsuit, filed by the Michigan Republican Party and the Republican National Committee in the state Court of Claims Thursday, also argues that the court should reverse another decision from last week that would temporarily ease restrictions on who can help people return absentee ballots to their clerk, what Republicans traditionally call “ballot harvesting.”


Republican groups in other states, too, have filed legal challenges to voting-related rules in recent days, including state Republicans in Minnesota fighting an extended deadline for absentee ballot receipt and in Texas challenging the governor of their own party over an extension of early voting.

The Michigan case is assigned to Judge Cynthia Stephens, who issued the decision last week that Republicans are contesting. The two groups were among those that sought to join the last case as intervening defendants, but they were denied, making it impossible for them to appeal the decision. 

Existing Michigan law requires ballots to reach clerks’ offices by Election Day (this year it’s Nov. 3) in order to be counted. Of the 10,600 absentee ballots that were rejected in the August primary, 6,400 of them were because they reached the clerk too late. The law also says only an immediate family member or a housemate can return absentee ballots to clerks for a voter besides themselves or a working mail deliverer. 

Stephens temporarily halted those rules for the November election, writing that the voter’s right to vote by mail is “severely restricted, and at times outright eliminated” by the unusual conditions of the coronavirus and existing U.S. Postal Service mail delays. 

Republicans argued that the ban on who can transport ballots to the polls “implements commonsense rules that prophylactically aim to curb ‘voter fraud’ and ballot tampering,” and that the pandemic doesn’t “nullify the Legislature’s obligation to set a deadline” for ballot receipt, and that the existing ballot deadline doesn’t “effectively preclude a voter from completing the process of voting by absentee ballot.”

The Michigan Republican Party did not immediately return a Bridge Michigan request for comment on the filing. Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, said in a statement that the courts have already made a clear decision. 

“We should be asking the Republicans why they don't want every single vote in Michigan to count,” Barnes said. “With 39 days to go Republicans are pulling out all the tricks to disenfranchise voters, while the Democrats are focused on ensuring that every eligible voter in Michigan can cast a ballot and be guaranteed it will be counted." 

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