Pennsylvania Democrats win deadline battle for mail-in ballots

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday allowed an extension of the deadline for mail-in absentee ballots in Pennsylvania for the Nov. 3 election.

It declined a Republican party request to block a lower court’s ruling that gave voters more time.

The justices, divided 4-4, left in place a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in favour of state Democrats that had extended the deadline for state election officials to receive mail-in ballots postmarked by the evening of Election Day until three days afterward.

The brief court order noted that four of the court’s five conservative justices would have granted the request.

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There are currently only eight justices on the usually nine-member court because of the death last month of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which left the court with a 5-3 conservative majority.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the three liberal justices in denying the request, with five votes needed for it to be granted.

The state Republican Party and Republican officials in Pennsylvania separately appealed the state Supreme Court ruling as they sought to tighten deadlines for mail-in ballots.

Pennsylvania is an election battleground state as President Donald Trump seeks a second term in office. Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 but is trailing Democratic opponent Joe Biden in opinion polls this year.

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In a Sept. 17 ruling, the state high court ruled in favour of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and various Democratic officials and candidates who had asked for the court to protect voting rights during the coronavirus pandemic, which has prompted an increase in requests for mail-in ballots.

The Democrats also raised concerns about whether the U.S. Postal Service, led by a Trump ally, would be able to handle the surge of ballots in a timely manner.

Democrat Kathy Boockvar, the Pennsylvania secretary of state, backed a three-day extension.