It's too late to mail ballots — but not to vote. Here are your options

People wearing masks sits at tables and sort papers.
Election judges take absenteee ballots out of their signature envelopes and look them over before sending them to be scanned at the Ramsey County absentee ballot count center in St. Paul Oct. 21.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Minnesota's secretary of state said Thursday it's too late for voters to mail back their absentee ballots if they want to make sure their votes count, after an appeals court ruling indicated that mail-in ballots arriving after Election Day are at risk of being invalidated.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Minnesota absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be separated from other ballots in case they are later invalidated by a final court order. The ruling doesn't block Minnesota's seven-day extension for counting absentee ballots outright, but puts the grace period in danger.

“Voters should no longer place their absentee ballots in the mail,” Secretary of State Steve Simon said. “It is too late for you, practically speaking, to get it back. Don’t risk it.”

The ruling doesn’t impact ballots received by the time polls close on Election Day, but sets the stage for post-election litigation. The case was sent back to a lower court for more proceedings.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

The decision is likely to create voter confusion, with people who haven't returned their absentee ballots scrambling to make sure their votes count.

As of Thursday night, nearly 400,000 of some 2 million requested absentee ballots remained outstanding, Simon said.

Simon said voters whose ballots are in transit can use the ballot tracking feature on the Secretary of State’s website to check on its status. If they’re worried it won’t arrive by the new court-ordered deadline, Simon said voters have an option of overriding their recently-mailed absentee ballot

“For those who just mailed it, they don’t know where it is, it hasn’t arrived yet, you could either wait a couple days to see if it has arrived or go in today, go in tomorrow, go in Monday or even go in Tuesday and override that in-transit ballot,” he said.

Simon said voters can also hand-deliver their absentee ballots in the remaining days to their county election office. The other option is to show up on Election Day to vote in person.

Here's what Simon said voters should do if they haven't yet mailed back their ballots or worry whether their ballots will be received in time.

  • Voters who have already put their ballot in the mail can track their ballot online. If their ballot hasn't yet been received, voters can cast their ballot in person either early by absentee, or at their polling place on Election Day.

  • Voters can deliver their ballots to their county election office by hand (or have someone they trust hand-deliver it for them). Voters can find their county election office here.

  • Voters can cast their vote in person with an absentee ballot at their local election office until offices close Monday.

  • Voters can cast their votes in person on Election Day. Voters can use the Secretary of State Office's polling place finder tool to find out where to vote.

Have questions leading up to the Election Day? #AskMPRNews. We want to hear your stories, too. #TellMPRNews what is motivating you to get out and vote this year.