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Split Supreme Court Allows Mail-In Ballot Extension in Crucial Battleground State

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The Supreme Court will allow Pennsylvania to count mail-in ballots received up to three days after the Nov. 3 election, rejecting a Republican plea in the presidential battleground state.

The justices divided 4-4 on Monday, an outcome that upholds a state Supreme Court ruling that required county election officials to count mail-in ballots that arrive up until Nov. 6 — even if they don’t have a clear postmark — as long as there is not proof they were mailed after the polls closed.

Republicans, including President Donald Trump’s campaign, have opposed such an extension, arguing that it violates federal law that sets Election Day as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November and that such a decision constitutionally belongs to lawmakers, not the courts.

The state Republican Party chairman, Lawrence Tabas, said the party disagrees with the decision and, noting the 4-4 decision, “it only underscores the importance of having a full Supreme Court as soon as possible.”

“To be clear, the Supreme Court decided not to grant a stay — which does not mean the actions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would withstand a legal challenge to their judicial overreach should the court hear the case,” Tabas said.

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“This is a significant victory for Pennsylvania voters,” Nancy Patton Mills, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said in a statement.

The Democratic majority on the state’s high court had cited warnings that postal service delays could invalidate huge numbers of ballots to invoke the power to extend election deadlines.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the three liberal justices to reject Pennsylvania Republicans’ call for the Supreme Court to block the state court ruling.

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas would have required the state to stop accepting absentee ballots when the polls close on Nov. 3.

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There were no opinions accompanying the order, so it is impossible to say what motivated either group of justices.

The conservative justices have been reluctant to allow court-ordered changes to voting rules close to an election.

“With nearly a million votes already cast in Pennsylvania, we support the court’s decision not to meddle in our already-working system,” Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Democrat Josh Shapiro, said in a statement.

The case is one of many partisan battles being fought in the state Legislature and courts over mail-in voting amid concerns that a presidential election result will hang in limbo for days in the battleground state.

In Pennsylvania, the state Democratic Party and a liberal group, the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans, had sought an extension of the Election Day deadline to count mailed ballots.

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With about 2.8 million mail-in ballots requested and approximately 900,000 returned, Democratic-registered voters have requested nearly three times as many ballots as Republicans.

In its Sept. 17 ruling, the divided state Supreme Court said ballots must be postmarked by the time polls close and be received by county election boards at 5 p.m. on Nov. 6, three days after the Nov. 3 election.


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