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The U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions Wednesday evening, declining to stop a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling and a North Carolina Board of Elections order that both extended the deadlines for mail-in ballots to be received in their states.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling allowed ballots postmarked by Election Day to still count if they are delivered by mail up to three days after the election. The order from the North Carolina Board of Elections and a state court extended the receipt deadline to Nov. 12. Those extensions remain in effect. For now.
Though both decisions are clear temporary victories for voting rights advocates, the dissents in each case suggest an ominous possibility. At least three justices ― Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch ― are open to taking up the Pennsylvania case again and potentially throwing out any ballots that arrive within the three days after Nov. 3.
In the Pennsylvania case, Gorsuch and Thomas joined a dissenting statement written by Alito suggesting that they would overturn the state court’s ruling and potentially rehear the case and invalidate any votes received during the extended period. In the North Carolina case, Gorsuch wrote a dissent joined by Alito calling the Board of Elections’ extension of the receipt deadline “egregious.” Thomas dissented but did not join Gorsuch’s dissent opinion.
The extension of the ballot receipt deadline by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court means that the 2020 election there will be “conducted under a cloud,” Alito wrote, adding, “there is a strong likelihood that the State Supreme Court decision violates the Federal Constitution.” While “there is simply not enough time at this late date to decide the question before the election,” Alito declared, “the petition for certiorari remains before us, and if it is granted, the case can then be decided under a shortened schedule.”
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