Minnesotans who have requested absentee ballots but who have yet to return them are now being strongly urged to do so in-person rather than via the U.S. Mail following an 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that potentially invalidates the state’s extension for accepting mail-in ballots through Nov. 10.

According to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, the ruling, which was handed down late Thursday, Oct. 29, directs all county and city polling places to set aside all absentee ballots received after polls close on Election Day, irregardless of when they are postmarked. Under a policy set up by the state in consideration of the dangers of possible spread of COVID-19 in large gatherings, absentee ballots were to be counted for seven days following Election Day as long as they were postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3.

“Voters should no longer place their absentee ballot in the mail,” Simon said in a press release. “Instead, voters have several options to ensure their vote is counted in the November general election.”

Simon said anyone who has received their absentee ballot can still fill it out, however they should hand-deliver it to their county’s election office. In Carlton County, that is the Carlton County Courthouse, located at 310 Walnut Ave in Carlton. For Pine County, it is the Pine County Courthouse located at 635 Northridge Dr. NW in Pine City. For both counties, hand-delivered absentee ballots will be accepted until 3 p.m. on Election Day.

Simon said anyone who has already mailed in their ballots should double check their ballot’s status by going to http://www.mnvotes.org/track. If the ballot tracker indicates a person’s ballot has not been received, voters do have the opportunity to guarantee their votes get counted. All a person has to do is go to their county’s election office and cast an absentee ballot in person. That ballot will immediately be recorded, which will nullify the person’s mailed-in ballot.

For both counties, in-person absentee voting will be available until 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 31, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2. On Election Day, in-person voting must be done at a person’s precinct polling location.

What happens to ballots received late?

During a press conference held Thursday, Oct. 29, Simon said the Court’s ruling is very vague in reference to what is supposed to happen to any ballots received after Election Day. While the ruling states those ballots are to be “segregated,” it is unclear if all, or even a portion of those ballots will eventually be counted.

“What the court left unsettled was the question of whether once and for all, if ballots will or will not be counted,” Simon said. “The decision, to be candid, is not a model of clarity and leaves open a lot of unanswered questions.”

Specifically, one of those questions is regarding ballots cast for local elections. According to Simon, this ruling only addresses the Presidential election, but it is silent regarding the counting of state or other local elections.

“Formally and technically speaking, it only applies to ‘votes for electors,’” Simon said. “So based on the terms in black and white on the decision, the court appears to have come up with the rather confusing conclusion that this case only applies to votes for President.”

Simon further explained this question in a video conference call on Friday, Oct. 30.

“The court did not say they were automatically invalidated,” Simon said. “What they did say is they will be in a separate pile. And any campaign could decide, apparently based on the numbers that we know from election day, whether to seek to invalidate that segregated pile, and the court signaled that they would have ‘a likelihood of success based on the merits.’”

Simon added that county election offices will proceed as if there will be no attempts to invalidate these ballots. Absentee ballots will be counted as they come in from Wednesday, Nov. 4 through Tuesday, Nov. 10, and they are requested to provide daily updates on vote totals to the Secretary of State.

Additionally, there is the possibility of an appeal being made to the Supreme Court, which may or may not be heard prior to the election.

Amid all of this unclarity, Simon gives Minnesotans one simple piece of advice.

“Please don’t put a ballot in the mail if you have it on your coffee table,” Simon summarized. “It’s just not worth the risk of not being counted.”

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