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CNN  — 

A Michigan state judge on Friday dramatically expanded the window for when absentee ballots can arrive and get counted after Election Day.

Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled that absentee ballots postmarked before Election Day can be counted if they arrive two weeks after the polls close. Previously, only ballots received by 8 p.m. on Election Day could be counted – a policy that led to thousands of ballots getting rejected in the state’s August primary.

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The ruling was a victory for Democratic groups that brought the lawsuit, who have been arguing in Michigan and other battleground states that many late-arriving ballots should still be counted. But it could also inject uncertainty into the post-election process because ballots arriving long after Election Day could still get counted and shift the outcome.

“This is a HUGE win for all Michigan voters who plan to vote by mail in November,” Democratic lawyer Marc Elias, who was involved in the lawsuit, said in a statement.

The judge also ruled that third-party ballot collection – sometimes pejoratively called “ballot harvesting” – can occur in the days leading up to Election Day. This means Michigan voters can give their ballots to “any third party of his or her choosing,” who will then return the absentee ballot. This process does somewhat increase the risk of fraud, but there are criminal penalties if third parties tamper with or destroy ballots.

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The Democrats fell short in their effort to have the state pay for return postage for all mail ballots. In rejecting their request to make this happen, Stephens wrote, “the Court finds that they are unlikely to succeed on their challenge to the postage requirement.”

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson weighed in on the court’s decision, saying that it “recognizes many of the unique challenges that the pandemic has created for all citizens and will reduce the potential for voter disenfranchisement due to mail delays.”

Benson noted, however, that “we still want voters to make a plan to vote now, and not wait until the last minute if they want to vote by mail. That’s why we will continue to strongly encourage voters to request and return their absentee ballots as soon as possible.”

This story has been updated with comment from Michigan’s Secretary of State.