A federal judge in St. Paul on Thursday denied a request to halt proceedings in a Republican challenge to the state’s extended deadline for accepting mail-in ballots in the presidential race.
Although Democrat Joe Biden carried the state decisively over President Donald Trump, a pre-election ruling by the Eighth U.S. Circuit of Appeals required that ballots arriving after Nov. 3 be set aside for potential legal challenges.
More than 10,000 ballots were received Wednesday and Thursday by election officials statewide, a fraction of Biden’s winning margin of more than 230,000 votes in the state.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel comes in a case brought by two GOP electors — party activist James Carson and state Rep. Eric Lucero — seeking to block a state consent decree counting mail-in votes that arrive as late as Nov. 10, as long as they were postmarked by Election Day.
Brasel initially rejected a request to invalidate the new deadline, ruling that the two GOP electors lacked standing to challenge the agreement. But a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently granted them standing and ordered the state to separate the ballots arriving after 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. The panel also held that Carson and Lucero were likely to prevail in their challenge because the extended deadline circumvented the state Legislature.
Although further challenges to the results of the presidential contest in Minnesota now seem unlikely, it remains unclear whether court action could emerge around the post-Election Day votes in state legislative or other down-ballot races. The state was still tabulating results from all races on Thursday.
Brasel’s latest ruling denied a motion on behalf of the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans Educational Fund, which had sued the state earlier this year to obtain the extended ballot deadline to accommodate voters during the coronavirus pandemic.
That suit resulted in a state court-approved consent decree with Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, permitting election officials to count ballots arriving up to seven days after Election Day.
The Trump campaign and Minnesota’s two GOP legislative caucuses also filed a petition with the state Supreme Court shortly before the election to set aside ballots arriving after Nov. 3.
That case is also pending, although Justice G. Barry Anderson questioned whether the Republicans waived their ability to challenge the post-Election Day ballots when they agreed to abandon a similar case in August.
The Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans has sought to pause the federal case brought by Carson and Lucero pending a decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court on the state GOP challenge.
But on Thursday, Brasel refused to grant that request, noting that there was no legal action before her that turns on whether the electors are bound by the state court agreement.