The U.S. Supreme Court denied Wednesday two requests by Republicans that the court revive a tighter deadline for returning absentee ballots in North Carolina.
The dispute centered on a consent agreement that the State Board of Elections reached as part of a lawsuit brought by voting rights advocates. The board agreed to extend the receipt deadline for mail ballots from three days after the election to nine days after the election. It also loosened up the rules around the state’s witness requirement for absentee voting.
Both the state Republican Party and the GOP legislative leaders filed requests asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch indicated that they voted in favor of reinstating the tighter ballot deadline. Gorsuch, joined by Alito, wrote a dissenting opinion explaining why he would have granted the lawmakers’ request to block the agreement.
The orders were the latest volley in the Supreme Court’s jockeying over who has authority to tweak election rules because of the pandemic. Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have all signaled that they believe courts should defer to state legislature’s decisions to make not to make changes in how elections are carried out. Kavanaugh, however, did not publicly indicate a dissent in the North Carolina dispute.
A key detail in the North Carolina case is that the legislature had granted the state board authority to change some election rules in the event that a “natural disaster” causes the normal election schedule to be “disrupted” and that the board’s changes don’t “unnecessar[ily]” conflict with state laws.
Gorsuch’s dissent focused on why he didn’t believe the pandemic met those conditions.
Read the orders below: