WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With both sides in the U.S. presidential election dueling in court ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Democrats scored two victories on Wednesday when the U.S. Supreme Court left in place extensions of North Carolina and Pennsylvania’s deadlines for receiving mail-in ballots.
But President Donald Trump and his allies have also notched important wins, including a ruling that the Republican governor of Texas may limit drop-off sites for election ballots.
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted hundreds of lawsuits over how people can cast their ballots. More than 75 million Americans have voted already, according to a tally on Wednesday from the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida.
Below are some of the biggest victories for Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
— NORTH CAROLINA BALLOT EXTENSION
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday left in place North Carolina’s extension of the deadline for receiving mail-in ballots.
The state election board, citing potential U.S. PostalService mail delivery delays, opted to allow absentee ballotspostmarked by Election Day to be counted if they arrived up tonine days later.
The justices rebuffed a request by Trump’s campaign, the Republican National Committee and North Carolina Republicanofficials to block a lower-court-approved agreement permitting the extension.
The Supreme Court’s order came two days after Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the court. Barrett did not participate in the decision.
— PENNSYLVANIA LAWSUIT OVER MAIL-IN DEADLINES
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in September that officials in the closely contested state can accept mail-in ballots three days after the Nov. 3 election, so long as they were postmarked by Election Day.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday denied a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to review the decision on an expedited basis.
The Supreme Court could still revisit the dispute and decide on the merits of the state court’s ruling after the election.
Justice Samuel Alito, joined by fellow conservatives Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, said in a written opinion that there is a “strong likelihood” that the Pennsylvania court’s decision violates the U.S. Constitution and should be reviewed before the election.
“But I reluctantly conclude that there is simply not enough time at this late date to decide the question before the election,” Alito wrote.
On Oct. 19, the court deadlocked 4-4 on an emergency request by Republicans to halt the lower court decision. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s three liberal justices in denying the request.
Republicans did prevail on one key issue at Pennsylvania’s high court. Interpreting a state law, the court said officials must throw out “naked ballots” — ballots that arrive without inner “secrecy envelopes.”
Republicans argued the secrecy sleeves help deter fraud. Democrats have warned the ruling could lead to more than 100,000 votes being thrown out.
— PENNSYLVANIA JUDGE REJECTS VOTER FRAUD CLAIMS
On Oct. 10, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Ranjan in Pittsburgh, a Trump appointee, rejected a bid by the Trump campaign and the Republican Party to limit the use of drop boxes in Pennsylvania.
Ranjan wrote that the plaintiffs failed to prove a risk of voter fraud. “At most, they have pieced together a sequence of uncertain assumptions.”
— TEXAS BALLOT DROP-OFF SITES
Drop boxes have become a partisan flash point, with Democrats promoting them as a safe option for voters unnerved by the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. Postal Service delivery problems. Republican officials and Trump’s campaign have argued without evidence that the boxes could enable voting fraud.
Republicans scored a major win in Texas on Tuesday when the state’s highest court ruled that Governor Greg Abbott can limit drop-off sites for ballots.
“The plaintiffs complain that limiting early hand-deliveries of mail-in ballots to one office per county requires more travel time for some voters. But this ignores the other options for casting their ballots that these voters have,” the court wrote. The three justices who issued the decision are Republicans.
Texas voters must qualify to vote by mail by, for example, being older than 65, being ill or disabled, or not being present in their voting county during the early voting period through Election Day.
The plaintiffs said they will not appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Nearly 8 million Texans had cast ballots as of Tuesday, approaching 90% of the entire 2016 vote – a higher percentage than any state in the country, according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida.
— FIGHT OVER MAIL-IN BALLOTS IN WISCONSIN
Wisconsin election officials cannot count mail-in ballots that arrive after the Nov. 3 elections, a conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday, dealing a significant setback to Democrats.
The 5-3 ruling left in place a decision by the U.S. 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that it was too close to Election Day to make significant modifications to the voting process.
The high court’s order was issued just before the Senate confirmed Barrett.
Liberal Justice Elena Kagan dissented, saying that the majority’s decision would “disenfranchise large numbers of responsible voters in the midst of hazardous pandemic conditions.”
Wisconsin is crucial to Trump’s re-election chances against Biden.
Democrats had argued that ballots postmarked by Election Day that arrive up to six days later should be tallied, saying such a policy would protect the right to vote amid a surge in mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic.
— TEXAS SIGNATURE REQUIREMENT
A federal appeals court on Oct. 19 said Texas does not have to give voters a chance to correct mail-in ballots that are rejected because the signature does not match the one on file with the state.
The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by a voting rights group against Republican Party officials in Texas, a longtime Republican stronghold that may be up for grabs this year.
— FLORIDA RESTRICTS EX-FELONS’ RIGHT TO VOTE
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that Florida can require felons to pay fines, restitution and legal fees they owe before they regain their right to vote.
By a 6-4 vote, it reversed a lower court ruling that the measure amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. Five of the six judges in the majority were appointed by Trump.
Former felons in Florida are more likely to register as Democrats, according to an analysis published this month by the Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald and ProPublica.
Nearly 900,000 Floridians with felony convictions will be unable to vote in the election because of the decision, according to an Oct. 14 study by the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform group.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)