(CN) — A New Jersey federal court Tuesday rejected the Trump campaign's attempt to stop the state from canvassing mail-in ballots early and counting such ballots if they are received within two days of Election Day, even if they are missing a postmark.
U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp refused to grant a preliminary injunction Tuesday, finding that the plaintiffs — the campaign, the Republican National Committee and the New Jersey Republican State Committee — are unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims that states must canvass ballots only on Election Day.
“Federal law establishing a national uniform election day does not prevent New Jersey from canvassing ballots before Election Day so long as the election is not consummated and the results reported before the polls close on Election Day,” said Shipp.
“It is within New Jersey’s discretion to choose its methods of determining the timeliness of the ballots, so long as there is no appreciable risk of canvassing untimely ballots,” the judge added in his 31-page opinion.
The underlying suit, brought in August, is part of the Trump campaign’s continued push against mail-in voting. The suit alleged New Jersey’s system is susceptible to fraud.
Governor Phil Murphy signed the opposed system into law in August, allowing for election officials to start counting ballots 10 days before Election Day and to count ballots received within two days after the polls close, even if they are missing a postmark.
Judge Shipp, a Barack Obama appointee, was not convinced by the campaign's fraud allegations, instead finding its disapproval to be against the public’s interests, both in regards to the right to vote and the ongoing pandemic.
"Here the risk is not just voters remaining away from the polls but also voters traveling to the polls," Shipp said. "It is foreseeable that an injunction on the eve of the by-mail election could prompt such confusion or distrust that voters opt to avoid the mail system altogether and cast provisional ballots in person. Such an outcome would defeat the purpose of the vote-by-mail election and needlessly force voters and poll workers into close proximity."
Shipp further considered the stress and confusion this last minute decision could have, given the current state of affairs.
“If the Court were to enter an injunction, Defendants would face additional logistical challenges in conducting a predominantly by-mail election during a pandemic,” Shipp said. “This choice brings its own logistical challenge: timely canvassing many times the usual number of mail-in ballots.”
Because of this, Shipp said that New Jersey is likely to suffer more harm from an injunction than the plaintiffs.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, a Democrat, praised the judge’s decision.
“Despite unprecedented conditions, New Jersey is committed to having fair and safe elections this November,” Grewal said in a statement. “We’re grateful that today a federal court recognized what we’ve said all along: New Jersey’s approach to this year’s election is lawful, and any arguments trying to undermine our election are simply misguided. We will continue to defend New Jersey’s elections rules against any court challenge.”
New Jersey operated with a mostly mail-in election in May and July, but on Monday nearly 7,000 New Jersey voters received mail-in ballots with the wrong congressional district.
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