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Roberts sides with liberals again: Pennsylvania will be allowed to accept mail-in ballots 3 days after election


Major implications

JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images

Pennsylvania will be permitted to count mail-in ballots received up to three days after Election Day, following a Supreme Court ruling on Monday.

The development was yet another loss for Republicans, who wanted only those ballots received by Nov. 3 to be counted.

What are the details?

The Supreme Court did not actually issue a ruling. Instead, because of a 4-4 tie resulting from the current court vacancy, the court has let stand a ruling by Pennsylvania's Supreme Court.

Last month, Pennsylvania's highest court — which is held by a 5-2 Democratic majority — granted a request by the Democratic Party to extend the deadline for which mail-in ballots can be counted in the election, the Associated Press reported.

The ruling was particularly significant because so many voters will cast their votes via mail-in ballot this year. Pennsylvania Democrats claimed potential postal service delays and the coronavirus pandemic warranted a deadline extension.

Now, ballots received up to three days after Election Day, even those with illegible or missing postmarks, can be counted in Pennsylvania. In fact, such ballots will be assumed to have been mailed by Election Day "unless a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that it was mailed after Election Day," according to the New York Times.

Prior to last month's decision, and the Supreme Court allowing the decision to stand, Pennsylvania required mail-in ballots, like absentee ballots, to be received by Election Day in order to be counted, NPR reported.

Chief Justice John Roberts, as he has often done in recent cases, joined the Supreme Court's liberal justices to give Pennsylvania Democrats the legal victory. The court's four conservative justices wanted the previous deadline requirement to stand.

The justices did not issue opinions.

Why is this significant?

The election will be undoubtedly decided by just a few crucial battleground states — and Pennsylvania is one such state.

Pennsylvania was key to Trump's 2016 victory, and it could be again this year. Trump's path to victory is narrower without Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral College votes. Unfortunately for Republicans, Monday's non-ruling just made it easier for Democrats and Biden to win the Keystone State.

In fact, as of last Friday, Pennsylvania Democrats had requested 1,755,940 mail-in or absentee ballots, the New York Times reported. Republican voters had requested just 672,381 ballots by comparison.

According to the AP, Pennsylvania expects about 3 million ballots to be cast by mail this year, more than 10 times the number of ballots cast by mail in 2016.

Lawrence Tabas, chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, said Monday's development "underscores the importance of having a full Supreme Court as soon as possible." He also explained why the legal fight is not yet over.

"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," he said, the AP reported.

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