Blow for Trump campaign as Supreme Court allows mail-in ballot extensions in battleground states – without new justice Amy Coney Barrett

Alex Woodward
·3-min read
A worker prepares absentee ballots in North Carolina. (AP)
A worker prepares absentee ballots in North Carolina. (AP)

The US Supreme Court has rejected Donald Trump’s re-election campaign attempt to block a deadline extension for North Carolina mail-in ballots that are postmarked by Election Day.

In a separate mail-in ballot case in Pennsylvania, the court declined a second, fast-tracked review of ballot deadlines in that state, where late-arriving ballots can be counted up to three days after 3 November.

Blocking the measure “would not be in the public interest,” the court said.

The high court’s decisions are a blow to Republicans who have sought to restrict ballot access during the coronavirus pandemic, while a beleaguered US Postal Service has experienced significant delays in delivering mail.

A favourable ruling for North Carolina election officials and Democrats keeps in place a deadline of 12 November to accept mail-in ballots, as long as they are postmarked by 3 November.

The state’s Board of Elections argued that the nine-day extension protects “lawful North Carolina voters from having their votes thrown out because of mail delays that the Postal Service had explicitly warned the state about.”

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the president’s newest appointee who was confirmed on Monday, did not participate in the rulings.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s three liberal justices to rule in the majority in the North Carolina case, while its three other conservative justices – Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas – dissented.

Justice Barrett did not participate because she “has not had time to fully review" court filings, according to court spokeswoman Kathy Arbert.

The Trump campaign and Republican groups had sought to revert the North Carolina deadline for late-arriving ballots to 6 November, arguing that Board of Elections had overruled legislative authority to set election rules.

North Carolina election officials had extended the deadline as part of a legal settlement with union groups, approved under a state judge.

But the court’s decision not to engage a new Republican appeal in the Pennsylvania case left open the possibility that the court could weigh in after Election Day.

That issue will become critical if the swing state – where a victory for the president or his Democratic challenger Joe Biden could determine who wins the White House – becomes a definitive battleground in the 2020 race.

In a statement, Trump deputy campaign manager Justin Clark said that the court had deferred “the important issue in the case – whether state courts can change the time, place and manner of elections contrary to the rules adopted by the state legislature – until after" 3 November.

Justice Alito wrote that he “reluctantly” concludes that “there is simply not enough time at this late date to decide the question before the election” in that case.

The Alliance for Retired Americans had initially sued for a ballot deadline extension in Pennsylvania.

Its executive director Richard Fiesta said in a statement that the court’s latest move “is an enormous victory for all Pennsylvania voters, especially seniors who should not have to put their health at risk during the pandemic in order to cast a ballot that will be counted."

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