MINNEAPOLIS -- A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday ruled Minnesota’s absentee ballots that come in after Election Day should be separated from the rest of the ballots in the event a future order makes those votes invalid.

The ruling doesn’t block Minnesota’s seven-day extension for counting absentee ballots, but it does order a lower court to issue a ruling that would keep the late arriving ballots separate.

 

In a call with members of the media Thursday night, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon expressed unhappiness with the court’s decision.

“The substance of the decision is deeply troubling, and so is the timing” Simon said. “This could have been decided months ago, and it should have been. As of early August, we had a set of rules in place that all political parties in this state signed onto. We put those rules into place for our August primary election, and instead, for no apparent reason, the case was decided five days before a national election.”

Republicans had argued that the extension, which had been approved in both state and federal courts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, violated federal law that establishes Nov. 3 as the date of the 2020 election. Democrats said eliminating the extension would create voter confusion.

There's still a Minnesota state statute that mandates counting all absentee ballots received by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. Simon says the potential impact of the court's decision isn't entirely clear yet.

"(The court) left open several possibilities," Simon said. "One of which is that we keep counting (ballots), and we segregate them. So, whatever number are in by 8:00 p.m., we count those, and then there will be a separate tally for those that come in afterwards. They've left open that possibility. They just didn't speak to it. That's one of the things that's frustrating about this particular decision."

 

Simon stresses Minnesotans not place their absentee ballot in the mail. Instead, he suggests:

  • Voters who have already put their ballot in the mail can track their ballot online. If the ballot has not yet been received the voter can vote in-person either by absentee, or at their polling place on Election Day.
  • Voters can deliver their ballots to their county election office by hand, or have someone they trust hand-deliver it for them.
  • Voters can cast their vote in person with an absentee ballot at their local election office up until November 2, 2020.
  • Voters can cast their votes in person on Election Day.

“Please don’t put a ballot in the mail if you have one right now,” Simon stressed.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.