WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Republican National Committee, Mississippi Republican Party and individual voters last Friday filed a new federal lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s mail-in ballot receipt deadline. Under Mississippi law, mail-in ballots that are postmarked on or before Election Day will be counted if they are received within five business days of the election.
The new Republican lawsuit alleges that by allowing mail-in ballots to be counted after Election Day, Mississippi “effectively extends [the state’s] federal election past the Election Day established by Congress.” The plaintiffs maintain that a ballot is not a “legal vote” unless it is received by Election Day, which Congress has set for one “specific” and “uniform” day — the Tuesday after the first Monday in November — under federal law.
According to the complaint, Mississippi’s deadline results in “valid ballots” — especially those cast by Republican voters — being “diluted by untimely, invalid ballots.” “The mail-in ballot deadline also specifically and disproportionately harms Republican candidates,” the lawsuit reads, citing a report from the MIT Election Lab demonstrating that Democratic voters cast mail-in ballots nearly twice as often as their Republican counterparts in the 2022 general election. “That means the late-arriving mail-in ballots that are counted for five additional days disproportionately break for Democrats,” the lawsuit states.
The plaintiffs contend that the challenged deadline — which allegedly “permits illegitimate votes” to be counted — violates their right to vote under the 14th Amendment and contravenes federal law. The Republican suit asks the court to strike down Mississippi’s mail-in ballot receipt deadline and to only allow for mail-in ballots received on or before Election Day to be counted in future elections.
In a duo of federal lawsuits in Illinois and North Dakota, Republican litigants are similarly seeking to invalidate their state’s mail-in ballot receipt deadlines. In Illinois, mail-in ballots postmarked on or before Election Day can be counted if they are received up to two weeks after the election. In North Dakota, state law permits valid mail-in ballots to be counted if they arrive up to 13 days after Election Day.
In both cases, the U.S. Department of Justice submitted statements emphasizing the importance of post-Election Day mail-in ballot deadlines for military and overseas voters, who often face “logistical challenges that can…result from transporting ballots from overseas or distant locations across the country.”
A federal judge previously dismissed the challenge out of Illinois, but the GOP plaintiffs have since appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where litigation is ongoing. In defending its deadline from Republicans’ legal challenge, Illinois election officials underscored how excluding validly cast mail-in ballots received after Election Day from the total vote tally would result in the disenfranchisement of millions of Illinoisans who rely on mail-in voting and whose ballots might not arrive by Election Day due to “delayed mail delivery and/or inconsistent postmarking practices.”
Despite Republican legal challenges, the practice of accepting mail-in ballots after Election Day remains quite commonplace throughout the United States: Nineteen states and Washington D.C. have post-Election Day mail-in ballot receipt deadlines.