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Attorney General William Tong

10/21/2020

AG Tong Joins 13 State Coalition Defending Minnesota's Extension Deadline For Mail In Ballots

(Hartford, CT) – Attorney General William Tong today joined a group of 13 state attorneys general in defending Minnesota’s deadline extension for receiving and counting mail-in ballots that were properly cast on or before Election Day.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in Carson v. Simon in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the multistate coalition argues that local election officials should be allowed to administer the upcoming election in ways that protect voter safety and voter participation considering both the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainties with the United States Postal Service (USPS). The brief argues that extending the date by which a mail-in ballot must be received to count is a measure several states have taken to allow voters to cast their ballot by mail while also accounting for USPS’s recent delays.

“Across the country we are seeing states attempt to make voting more difficult by restricting how and when people can cast their ballots,” Attorney General Tong said. “These challenges are part of a nationwide right-wing voter suppression campaign designed at undermining public participation and trust in our election. During the COVID-19 pandemic, no one should risk their life to vote in person because they fear their absentee ballot won’t be counted. We will continue fighting for the rights of every American to vote safely and confidently on Nov. 3.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, states across the country have modified their election procedures to protect both voter participation and the health of voters and election workers. Extending receipt deadlines for mail-in ballots that are properly cast on or before November 3, 2020, is a popular option adopted by many states, especially given recent crises engulfing the USPS.

In May 2020, a Minnesota advocacy group filed a lawsuit in state court alleging that the state’s receipt deadline of 8 p.m. on Election Day was unconstitutional, especially in light of the increase in mail-in voting during the pandemic and USPS’s mail delays. The court entered a consent decree in which the Minnesota Secretary of State agreed to extend the deadline. The Secretary directed election officials to accept all mail-in ballots postmarked on or before November 3, 2020, and received by election officials within five business days (seven calendar days) of Election Day.

In September 2020, a lawsuit was filed in Minnesota federal court to prevent the Secretary from accepting mail-in ballots received after the original receipt deadline of Election Day. The district court declined to issue a preliminary injunction, and plaintiffs appealed that order to the Eighth Circuit and moved for an injunction pending appeal.

In the amicus brief, the coalition supports Minnesota’s deadline extension for receiving mail-in ballots because:

States have a responsibility to protect voter safety and participation amid the pandemic and USPS concerns: The Supreme Court has recognized that states have the power to regulate elections and must do so in ways that preserve the right to vote. During the pandemic, states have taken reasonable, common-sense steps to encourage safe vote-by-mail options, including by extending receipt deadlines. These extensions help ensure properly cast ballots are counted and boost confidence in voting by mail. In Minnesota, more than 1.5 million registered voters have requested absentee ballots for the November election, up from 676,000 in the 2016 general election. Given the influx of expected absentee voters and uncertainty with USPS delivery, Minnesota’s deadline extension for receiving mail-in ballots is a reasonable move to ensure that all valid ballots cast on or before Election Day will count.

Accepting mail-in ballots received after Election Day is a longstanding practice in many states: At least 22 states and the District of Columbia accept absentee or mail-in ballots received after Election Day when the ballot is shown—via postmark or otherwise—to have been cast on or before Election Day. This practice has expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many states have extended their receipt deadlines to reduce the public health risks of voting in-person and accommodate potential delays in USPS service.

The brief is available here.

Attorney General Tong and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, who is leading the coalition, are joined by attorneys general from California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.

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