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Justices deny fast, new look at Pennsylvania ballot deadline

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 28, 2020

Michael Imms, with Chester County Voter Services, gathers mail-in ballots after being sorted for the 2020 General Election in the United States, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in West Chester, Pa.  (Matt Slocum)
Michael Imms, with Chester County Voter Services, gathers mail-in ballots after being sorted for the 2020 General Election in the United States, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in West Chester, Pa. (Matt Slocum)
Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it would not grant a quick, pre-election review to a new Republican appeal to exclude absentee ballots received after Election Day in the presidential battleground state of Pennsylvania, although it remained unclear whether those ballots will ultimately be counted.

The court’s order left open the possibility that the justices could take up and decide after the election whether a three-day extension to receive and count absentee ballots ordered by Pennsylvania’s high court was proper.

The issue would take on enormous importance if Pennsylvania turns out to be the crucial state in next week’s election and the votes received between Nov. 3 and Nov. 6 are potentially decisive.

The Supreme Court ruled hours after Pennsylvania’s Department of State agreed to segregate ballots received in the mail after polls close on Tuesday and before 5 p.m. on Nov. 6.

President Donald Trump’s campaign suggested that those ballots will never be counted.

“We secured a huge victory when the Pennsylvania Secretary of State saw the writing on the wall and voluntarily complied with our injunction request, segregating ballots received after the Nov. 3 deadline to ensure they will not be counted until the Supreme Court rules on our petition,” Justin Clark, a deputy campaign manager, said in an interview.

The court, Clark said, deferred “the most important issue in the case, which is whether state courts can change the time, place and manner of elections, contrary to the rules adopted by the Legislature.”

Pennsylvania’s Department of State could not immediately say Wednesday night whether it would revise its guidance to the counties about whether to count those ballots.

The Alliance for Retired Americans, which had sued in Pennsylvania state courts for an extended deadline, said the ruling means that ballots arriving during the three-day period after Election Day will be counted.

“This is an enormous victory for all Pennsylvania voters, especially seniors who should not have to put their health at risk during the pandemic in order to cast a ballot that will be counted,” Richard Fiesta, the alliance’s executive director, said in a statement.

New Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not take part in the vote “because of the need for a prompt resolution of it and because she has not had time to fully review the parties’ filings,” court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said in an email.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for three justices, indicated he would support the high court’s eventual review of the issue. But, he wrote, “I reluctantly conclude that there is simply not enough time at this late date to decide the question before the election.”

Last week, the justices divided 4-4, a tie vote that allowed the three-day extension ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to remain in effect.

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