Federal Judge Rejects Challenge To Mail-in Ballots In North Dakota


Authored by Tom Ozimek via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a legal foundation focused on election integrity cases that sought to invalidate a North Dakota law that allows mail-in ballots to be counted for 13 days after Election Day.

Empty envelopes of opened vote-by-mail ballots for the presidential primary are stacked on a table at King County Elections in Renton, Wash., on March 10, 2020. (Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Traynor said in his Feb. 2 order that the lawsuit both lacked standing and failed to show harm or violation of constitutional rights.

“The complaint is dismissed,” Judge Traynor, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, wrote in the order.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2023 by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) on behalf of Burleigh County Auditor Mark Splonkowski.

Mr. Splonkowski, as county auditor, is required to enforce state law in the administration of elections in Burleigh County. He argued that conflicts between state and federal law force him into an impossible situation in which he risks criminal penalties.

“North Dakota law and Defendant’s enforcement of it harm Mr. Splonkowski because they put him in the position of having to choose between dictates of state law to accept and allow votes to be cast after Election Day and federal law that requires a single election day,” the complaint reads.

A key argument in his lawsuit was that the U.S. Constitution provides that federal elections occur on one day, while North Dakota law allows for mail-in ballots to be counted for up to 13 days after Election Day so long as they’re postmarked on or before the election.

‘Impossibility in Enforcing the Law’

Mr. Splonkowski, who in his role as auditor must swear to uphold the U.S. Constitution (which his lawsuit argues requires a single Election Day), sits on the county canvassing board that reviews and counts ballots arriving after Election Day.

Since North Dakota law requires him to count and certify votes arriving after Election Day, his attorneys said that “he faces an impossibility in enforcing the law” and risks a misdemeanor charge for failing to perform a duty as an election official or a felony for certifying a false canvass of votes.

Mr. Splonkowski sought a court declaration that North Dakota’s extension of Election Day is unlawful and asked for an injunction voiding laws that allow for the extension.

Judge Traynor disagreed. In ruling against Mr. Splonkowski, the judge cited lack of standing, failure to show harm, and lack of constitutional violation in the ruling.

The only cause for his potential injury is himself because he states he will violate North Dakota election law,” the judge wrote.

“This 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.”

Judge Traynor also said the reasoning in Mr. Splonkowski’s lawsuit, if accepted by the court, could undermine overseas and military voters’ rights to vote.

PILF spokesperson Lauren Bowman Bis expressed disappointment in the judgment.

We are disappointed in the Court’s ruling,” she told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement. “We believe unresolved elections undermine confidence and that federal law should be followed.”

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

PILF is involved in various election integrity cases around the country and is also backing former President Donald Trump’s bid before the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Colorado Supreme Court decision to block him from the ballot on 14th Amendment grounds.

More than a dozen states have post-Election Day mail-in ballot receipt deadlines.

Mississippi Challenge

Besides the PILF-led lawsuit in North Dakota, another challenge to extended mail ballot deadlines was filed last month in Mississippi.

The Republican National Committee, the Mississippi Republican Party, a member of the state Republican Executive Committee, and an election commissioner in one county filed a federal lawsuit on Jan. 26 against Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson and six local election officials.

In this case, the lawsuit seeks to overturn a Mississippi law that allows absentee ballots in presidential elections to be counted for five days after Election Day.

Federal law is very clear—Election Day is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement when the lawsuit was announced. “However, some states accept and count ballots days and days after Election Day, and we believe that practice is wrong.”

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) stated that it’s tracking such cases closely and will oppose efforts it sees as voter disenfranchisement.

“Democrats will always stand on the side of voters against unlawful attacks on Americans’ fundamental right to make their voices heard at the ballot box,” DNC deputy press secretary Nina Raneses said in a statement.

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