By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Thursday said Minnesota’s plan to count absentee ballots received after Election Day was illegal, siding with Republicans in the battleground state.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said the deadline extension was an unconstitutional maneuver by the state’s top election official, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat.

The appeals court said Minnesota election officials should identify and set aside all absentee ballots received after Nov. 3.

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“Simply put, the Secretary has no power to override the Minnesota Legislature,” the court’s majority wrote.

A spokeswoman for Simon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Minnesota law requires that absentee ballots be received by Election Day. But that deadline was extended through a settlement Simon reached with a citizens group that sued earlier this year.

Under that settlement, which was approved by a judge, state election officials could count ballots received until Nov. 10 as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3.

The settlement said if a mailed ballot were missing a postmark, election officials should presume it was mailed by Nov. 3 unless evidence showed otherwise.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, said on Twitter that because of the “last minute” change voters in the state should vote in-person or take mail-in ballots directly to a ballot box.

“In the middle of a pandemic, the Republican Party is doing everything to make it hard for you to vote. Stand up for YOUR rights,” Klobuchar said.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Tom Brown)

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