Trump-Appointed Judge Dismisses Right-Wing Attempt To Curtail North Dakota’s Mail-in Ballot Receipt Deadline

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Trump-appointed federal judge today dismissed a right-wing lawsuit seeking to invalidate a North Dakota election law that allows for the counting of mail-in ballots up to 13 days after an election so long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day. 

Today’s order was handed down exactly one week after the Republican National Committee (RNC) and Mississippi Republican Party filed a nearly identical legal challenge in Mississippi, where mail-in ballots can be counted if they are received within five business days of the election. 

In the order issued earlier today, Judge Daniel M. Traynor found that the plaintiff — a county auditor represented by the right-wing Public Interest Legal Foundation — lacked standing to bring his legal challenge and failed to demonstrate that he was injured by the challenged law. 

U.S. Postal Service residential mailbox with absentee ballot inside, September 2020.

Filed in July 2023, the lawsuit alleged that the North Dakota law allowing for mail-in ballots to be counted after Election Day conflicts with federal law, which sets federal elections for “the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.” Despite the fact that the state only accepts ballots that are postmarked on or before Election Day, the suit claimed that the challenged North Dakota law unlawfully “extends” Election Day.

The lawsuit even garnered the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which filed a statement of interest last September to inform the court about the importance of post-Election Day mail-in ballot deadlines for military and overseas voters. According to the DOJ, these voters often face “logistical challenges that can…result from transporting ballots from overseas or distant locations across the country” and rely on later ballot receipt deadlines that protect against disenfranchisement. 

In court filings leading up to today’s order, the county auditor previously argued that “he will face criminal penalties if he chooses to follow federal Election Day statutes over North Dakota’s Ballot Receipt Deadline.” 

In response to this assertion, Traynor wrote today that “[it] is deeply concerning to the Court that an elected official openly advocates for violating the law he was elected to enforce because he has independently concluded it contradicts federal law.” He added that this “proposed conduct may impinge upon the voting rights of members of the United States military and United States citizens living abroad.”

North Dakota’s top election official, Republican Secretary of State Michael Howe, applauded today’s ruling, calling it “a win for the rule of law in North Dakota and a win for our military and overseas voters.”

In addition to the recent RNC case filed in Mississippi last week, an ongoing Republican lawsuit in Illinois leverages a similar challenge against the state’s absentee ballot receipt deadline, which permits ballots to be counted up to two weeks after Election Day. 

A federal judge previously dismissed the Illinois case, 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.

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.