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Republican lawsuits challenge mail ballot deadlines. Could they upend voting across the country?

Republicans are challenging extended mail ballot deadlines in at least two states in a legal maneuver that could have widespread implications for mail voting ahead of this year’s presidential election.

A lawsuit filed last week in Mississippi follows a similar one last year in North Dakota, both brought in heavily Republican states before conservative federal courts. Democratic and voting rights groups are concerned about the potential impact beyond those two states if a judge rules that deadlines for receiving mailed ballots that stretch past Election Day violate federal law.

They say it’s possible such a decision would lead to a nationwide injunction similar to one last year when a Texas judge temporarily paused the FDA’s approval of the abortion pill mifepristone.

“This effort risks disenfranchising Mississippi voters, but we don’t want that to also be precedent for other states,” Abhi Rahman, communications director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said in response to the most recent lawsuit.

Mississippi and North Dakota are among 19 states that accept late-arriving mailed ballots as long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That includes political swing states such as Nevada and North Carolina. Some, including Colorado, Oregon, and Utah, rely heavily on mail voting.

Former President Donald Trump has long railed against the use of mail voting, in particular when many states expanded its use during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when he lost his reelection bid to Democrat Joe Biden. He has falsely claimed that changing vote tallies after Election Day are an indication of widespread fraud. And in the wake of his loss, several Republican-controlled states moved to tighten rules around mail voting.

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 Friday against Secretary of State Michael Watson and six local election officials.

The suit challenges a Mississippi law that says absentee ballots in presidential elections will be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day and received within five days.

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