Federal appeals court rules mailed ballots must be received by Election Day in Minnesota, cutting weeklong window

The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that mailed-in ballots in Minnesota must be received by elections officials no later than Election Day.

The 2-1 ruling — a win for the Republican challengers to the state’s plans — cuts off a weeklong window after Election Day where state officials had planned to receive ballots that had lingered in the mail. The court found the Minnesota secretary of state’s accommodation went against a state law that said ballots delivered by mail to elections officials after 8 p.m. on Election Day should be marked late.

“The Secretary’s instructions to count mail-in ballots received up to seven days after Election Day stand in direct contradiction to Minnesota election law governing presidential elections,” the ruling stated.

The decision tackles absentee ballot deadlines in a battleground state a day after the US Supreme Court declined to wade into plans in Pennsylvania and North Carolina to continue to accept ballots after Election Day.

The Trump campaign had sided with cutting off the receipt of ballots by Election Day.

The decision on Thursday night potentially throws into chaos the plans of Minnesota voters who have not yet mailed their absentee ballots. It sets up the possibility those votes may not be counted if they are postmarked in the coming days.

But the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals urged voters to consider voting in other ways, because the court has not yet decided if votes that come in via mail after Election Day are legal.

“Better to put those voters on notice now while they still have at least some time to adjust their plans and cast their votes in an unquestionably lawful way,” the appeals court said in its ruling.

The appeals court said that the ballots received by officials after Election Day should be set aside separately from ballots that were received on time, and not counted.

“The consequences of this order are not lost on us,” the court’s opinion said. “We acknowledge and understand the concerns over voter confusion, election administration issues, and public confidence in the election. … With that said, we conclude the challenges that will stem from this ruling are preferable to a postelection scenario where mail-in votes, received after the statutory deadline, are either intermingled with ballots received on time or invalidated without prior warning.”

The appeals court sided with two of the Republican Party’s nominees for its Electoral College slate in Minnesota. The two electors challenged the Minnesota secretary of state’s decision to add a week for the state to receive ballots after Election Day.

This story has been updated with additional details.