The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed North Carolina to count mail-in ballots up to nine days after the election as long as the ballots are postmarked by election day.
The ruling is a win for Democrats in a key state ahead of the election and a loss for North Carolina Republican lawmakers and the Trump campaign, both of which filed challenges to a lower court ruling that set the nine-day deadline, according to CNN.
The state’s Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein issued a statement cheering the court’s ruling: “North Carolina voters had a huge win tonight at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court upheld the State Board of Elections’ effort to ensure that every eligible vote counts, even during a pandemic. Voters must have their mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day, but now we all have certainty that every eligible vote will be counted. Let’s vote!”
Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was sworn into office on Monday, did not take part in the decision because she did not have enough time to review the case materials, the court said. Notably, Barrett did not recuse herself from the decision so she can still make a ruling on the case at some point in the future.
In both challenges to the lower court ruling — that ballots can be counted up to nine days past election day — Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas dissented from the previous decision. At least five votes are needed for the Supreme Court to overturn it.
A similar case appeared before the Supreme Court last week, this time over a state supreme court ruling from Pennsylvania that also favored Democrats. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has allowed mail-in ballots to be counted up to three days after election day, another significant ruling in a swing state that threatens to hamper a speedy resolution to the presidential election.
The Supreme Court split 4-4 on the Pennsylvania decision, leaving in place the lower court ruling. Barrett’s is now the missing vote, which she may supply later.
The Pennsylvania GOP had filed a request to the Supreme Court to stay the state court’s decision, arguing: “In a year where there is a very real possibility that the final presidential election result hinges on Pennsylvania, the new rules imposed by the decision of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (a body elected in partisan elections) could destroy the American public’s confidence in the electoral system as a whole.”
The request continued:
This Court should adhere to the rule it set forth earlier this year. Like the district court in Republican National Committee, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has created a strong likelihood that ballots cast or mailed “after the scheduled election day” will count in the upcoming general election in which millions of Pennsylvanians will cast their votes for President and U.S. Representative.
This is not a mere hypothetical concern. In the April 2020 Wisconsin primary, “many ballots arrived with no postmarks, two postmarks or unclear postmarks.” And a ballot mailed as late as November 5, 2020 in Pennsylvania has “more than [a] 98%” chance of being delivered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s judicial received-by deadline of November 6, 2020. Thus, just as in Republican National Committee, this Court should stay that order insofar as it “fundamentally alters the nature of the election” by mandating a non-postmarked ballots presumption that allows counting of ballots cast or mailed after Election Day.