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Trump and GOP look to courts to change the rules on counting votes

David Knowles
·Editor
·4-min read

President Trump is looking to the courts to prevent states from counting mail-in ballots that don’t arrive until after Election Day, which would overturn the long-standing practices of nearly half the states and represent a fundamental shift in how U.S. elections are decided.

On Friday, Trump vented his disapproval of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling the day before that allows state officials in North Carolina to extend the counting of mail-in ballots up to nine days after Election Day, so long as those ballots were mailed and postmarked by Nov. 3. The postmark is a date stamped on a piece of mail by the Postal Service, indicating when it was processed.

North Carolina is one of 22 states, plus the District of Columbia, where mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day are counted if they are postmarked by that day. In contrast, 28 states require that ballots need to be received on or before Election Day to be counted.

The coronavirus pandemic has driven a dramatic surge in mail-in and early voting by Americans reluctant to brave crowded polling sites on Election Day. States like Hawaii and Texas have already surpassed the total number of votes cast in the 2016 election and others are likely to follow. Yet, as of Friday, millions of mail-in ballots sent to key battleground states had yet to be received by election boards.

Making matters worse, data from the Postal Service shows absentee ballots sent in by voters in swing states are taking longer to be delivered, with more 1 in 10 postmarked ballots not being delivered within a three-day window, the Washington Post reported.

President Trump speaks to the press as he departs the White House on Friday.
President Trump speaks to the press as he departs the White House on Friday. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

In many of those states where polls show a tight contest — including Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas — the Trump campaign and the Republican Party have filed lawsuits to try to enforce a new deadline for when votes must be discarded.

On Thursday, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that mail-in ballots in Minnesota received after 8 p.m. on Election Day should be set aside, overturning a state rule that allows properly postmarked ballots to be counted for up to a week later.

That decision set off a scramble among Democrats in the state to convince people not to send their ballots via the U.S. mail.

Differences in how state laws are worded and the specifics of each case mean there is no consistent rule across jurisdictions. The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Pennsylvania could count properly postmarked ballots up to three days after Election Day. But the court turned back a bid by Democrats and the League of Women Voters to extend Wisconsin’s Election Day deadline by six days for when mail-in votes could be counted.

In Texas, the state Supreme Court upheld Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s order drastically limiting the number of drop boxes for absentee and mail-in ballots — to one in each county — saying in a ruling on Tuesday that the move “does not disenfranchise anyone.”

The Trump campaign has also filed suit against three Iowa counties in an attempt to invalidate requests for approximately 18,000 absentee ballots on technical grounds because some of those requests contained voter information.

While Republicans and the Trump campaign are contesting a variety of issues, the common denominator of the suits brought by the GOP is that they are seeking to limit the number of votes that will be counted.

When it comes to whether mail-in ballots postmarked prior to Election Day should be tossed if received at a later date, some commentators have noted that the federal government applies a different standard when it comes to collecting taxes.

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