Minnesota absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 can be counted even if they're received up to a week after Election Day, under a federal judge's order turning back a Republican challenge to the extended balloting deadline.
The ruling Sunday by U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel upholds a Minnesota state court agreement spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic that allows counting of absentee ballots received up to Nov. 10. State officials are seeing a record number of mail-in ballots this year.
Attorneys for state Rep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton, and GOP activist James Carson, who challenged the agreement, appealed the order on Monday. Brasel ruled that the two men lacked legal standing to challenge the deal.
The ruling is the latest in a series of court challenges involving measures taken in Minnesota to carry out the election amid the pandemic, which has prompted a surge of mail-in ballots nationwide and attacks by President Donald Trump on the integrity of the 2020 election.
One judge recently refused to block Gov. Tim Walz's emergency mask mandate at polling places and another dismissed a suit filed by GOP U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis, who argued that Walz's orders infringed on his ability to effectively travel and campaign.
Lucero and Carson — both candidates to be GOP presidential electors this year — filed suit last month after Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon reached an agreement in Ramsey County District Court with a citizens' rights group concerned with voter safety at in-person polling places.
The latest GOP challenge came after Trump's campaign and the state Republican Party abandoned a separate appeal to the agreement, which provides for the extended balloting as well as waiving the witness signature for absentee ballots.
The state court agreement came in response to a suit brought by the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans Educational Fund challenging the state's absentee balloting rules.
Alliance for Retired Americans Executive Director Richard Fiesta called Brasel's decision "an important common sense voting rights victory."
"Thousands of older Minnesota voters can protect their health and cast a ballot that will be counted," Fiesta said. "As in any election, the rights of voters to cast their ballots in the least burdensome manner is paramount. This decision furthers that ability."
More than 1.3 million Minnesota voters applied to vote from home as of last Friday, and 601,094 of those ballots have already been accepted by Simon's office. At the same point in 2016, just 281,532 people had applied for absentee mail ballots.
Lucero and Carson argued that the extended deadline will confuse voters and dilute the ballots received by the regular 8 p.m. Election Day deadline.
Brasel ruled that, to the contrary, reversing the extended deadline nearly a month after early voting started would only stir up more confusion.
"This is a difficult genie to put back in the lamp," Brasel wrote of the changes. "Giving Minnesota voters conflicting messages after they have received their absentee ballots would certainly cause some of those voters uncertainty and confusion."
In a declaration backing the Alliance for Retired Minnesotans' case, University of Wisconsin-Madison political science Prof. Kenneth Mayer wrote that "tens of thousands" of Minnesotans could have their absentee ballots rejected if there were no change to the deadline. Mayer also wrote that he could find just two cases of absentee voter fraud in Minnesota since 1979 and that both involved single ballots.