Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled that absentee ballots postmarked before Election Day can be counted if they arrive two weeks after the polls close. Previously, only ballots received by 8 p.m. on Election Day could be counted — a policy that led to thousands of ballots getting rejected in the state’s August primary.
The ruling was a victory for Democratic groups that brought the lawsuit, who have been arguing in Michigan and other battleground states that many late-arriving ballots should still be counted. But it could also inject uncertainty into the post-election process because ballots arriving long after Election Day could still get counted and shift the outcome.
“This is a HUGE win for all Michigan voters who plan to vote by mail in November,” Democratic lawyer Marc Elias, who was involved in the lawsuit, said in a statement.
The judge also ruled that third-party ballot collection — sometimes pejoratively called “ballot harvesting” — can occur in the days leading up to Election Day. This means Michigan voters can give their ballots to “any third party of his or her choosing,” who will then return the absentee ballot. This process does somewhat increase the risk of fraud, but there are criminal penalties if third parties tamper with or destroy ballots.
The Democrats fell short in their effort to have the state pay for return postage for all mail ballots. In rejecting their request to make this happen, Stephens wrote, “the Court finds that they are unlikely to succeed on their challenge to the postage requirement.”