The US Supreme Court rejected a bid by President Donald Trump’s campaign to narrow the window for absentee voting in North Carolina, voting 5–3 to allow officials to count ballots that arrive by Nov. 12 as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.
The Wednesday night order ends a messy legal battle over the deadline to count ballots in North Carolina, a key battleground state in the presidential election as well as the site of a major Senate race that could decide who controls the upper chamber next year.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh sided with the court's three liberal justices to allow the extension to stand. The court’s newest member, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was sworn in this week, did not participate in the decision.
As part of an agreement reached in a lawsuit brought by voting rights groups, the North Carolina State Board of Elections had extended its deadline to accept ballots by an additional six days, citing the coronavirus pandemic and delays in mail deliveries.
Trump’s campaign, the Republican National Committee, and state Republicans had argued that the State Board of Elections’ guidance was the result of a “backroom deal” with one of the voting rights groups involved in the litigation, Democracy North Carolina, that overrode rules written as part of a separate bipartisan agreement in the state legislature. Republicans also tried to argue the new rules could result in widespread voter fraud, echoing a baseless attack on mail-in voting that Trump and his campaign have repeated, without evidence, this year and which courts have found unconvincing.
In a dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch pointed out that just days ago the court handed Republicans a victory in a separate case, denying Democrats’ effort to extend Wisconsin’s timeline to accept ballots. As in that case, Gorsuch argued that state legislatures should decide how to run an election, and courts should not be second-guessing those decisions.
The majority did not give the reasoning for their decision. Many of the decisions coming down about voting rights this close to the election have been decided in a similar fashion.