Voting by mail in Michigan’s August or November elections? Here’s why you’ll need to send your ballot in days early.
LANSING, MI — More Michiganders are voting by mail than ever before. But now comes the tricky question: What’s the cutoff for receiving ballots in the mail?
A Michigan court ruled this week that in order to be counted, ballots must be received by the time polls close on Election Day. The decision came just ahead of Michigan’s Primary Election on Aug. 4
The League of Women Voters had sued to change that restriction so that ballots mailed on Election Day would still count, even if they arrived a day or two late. They worried thousands of ballots could be voided out with how much mail delivery has fluctuated during the pandemic — even ones technically cast on Election Day.
But in a 2-1 decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals found it was up to the Michigan Legislature to change an election deadline.
When ‘Voter Intent’ Isn’t Enough
Judges David Sawyer and Michael Riordan argued that the court should defer to the Legislature on such policy matters, but Judge Elizabeth Gleicher argued the extension was implied in a package of voter access reforms Michigan passed in 2018.
“This case should be easy,” Gleicher said. “Because voters have a right to vote by mail if they mail their ballots to the clerk during the 40 days before an election, they have right to have their votes counted when those votes arrive in the clerk’s office. This interpretation squares with the historical and legal meaning of voting. It corresponds with the voters’ intent.”
The League of Women Voters argued that inherent fluctuations in mail delivery meant that two Michigan voters could cast ballots on the same day by mail and only one could be counted with the other arriving after the deadline. This, they said, could disenfranchise thousands of voters in November.
The reforms to Michigan’s voter access ensured the right to cast a ballot in the 40 days leading up to the election, so the League of Women Voters argued that this meant any ballot postmarked in that time frame ought to be counted.
The Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature is unlikely to extend the deadline.
Why Mail-In Voting Matters More Than Ever
More Michiganders than ever will likely vote by absentee ballot this November. The fears of voting in person during a pandemic have driven voters to the absentee ballot process.
“Given COVID-19, vote by mail will play a critical role in the 2020 elections as voters look to protect their health and participate in democracy,” said Theresa Lee, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Right now, Michigan’s absentee ballot voting process is not ready to meet its biggest test ever when millions attempt to vote by absentee ballot. This lawsuit seeks to resolve those issues.”
A high demand for voting by mail was seen in Michigan’s May elections, where turnout records were smashed largely by mail-in voting. But neary 2% of ballots were not counted in the May local elections because they came in too late.
“Michigan election officials continue to enforce a century-old requirement that absentee ballots must be rejected if they arrive at the clerk’s office after election day, even if they were mailed on or before election day,” reads the suit filed by the League of Women Voters. “This received-by-election-day deadline patently violates, among other constitutional provisions, the constitutional amendment giving voters the absolute right to submit their ballots by mail in the 40 days leading up to election night.”
The judges also unanimously rejected a request to compel Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to direct local clerks to provide paid postage on return envelopes.
The League of Women Voters is appealing to the state’ Supreme Court.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.