The Supreme Court has rejected Donald Trump’s bid to prevent absentee ballots in North Carolina from being counted up to nine days after the election.
The Trump campaign, RNC and local Republicans had been fighting a lower court-approved extension of the deadline for receiving mail-in ballots to November 12 – provided they were postmarked by election day.
The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the extension came two days after Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed. Barrett did not participate in the court’s decision.
North Carolina State Board of Elections had extended its normal deadline by six days after a lawsuit was brought by voting rights groups, citing difficulties and delays in mail deliveries brought by the pandemic.
Trump’s staff and Republicans said that this was a ‘backroom deal’ that contradicted the rules set down in a separate bipartisan agreement by lawmakers in Raleigh.
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Phoenix Goodyear Airport on Wednesday
A voter turns sideways as he eyes the opening of a ballot drop box before placing his ballot inside it Wednesday, in Seattle
They also argued that the extension paved the way for voter fraud – a narrative frequently discussed by the president.
Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that just days earlier the court gave Republicans victory in a dispute over an extension in Wisconsin.
He said that in that case it was decided that state legislatures should rule on how their votes are counted and so in the case of North Carolina, the local lawmakers should decide not the court.
It comes amid the most litigious presidential election in recent history, with court battles waged by Democrats and Republicans over a range of issues including how near guns can be brought to polling places and where poll watchers may stand.
Roughly 300 lawsuits have been filed over the election in dozens of states across the country, and still scores remain unsettled just days before Election Day.
Many involve changes to normal procedures given the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 228,000 people in the U.S. and sickened more than 8.8 million.
The campaigns of Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, have been quietly building armies of lawyers preparing for the possibility of a drawn-out legal fight that lands at the Supreme Court.
Justice Neil Gorsuch was one of the few Supreme Court justices to detail his reasoning on the decision
‘The level of litigation has just been so unprecedented,’ said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project.
‘It does feel like there’s a desire to elevate any possible thing. Possible misunderstandings or just disagreements with what the rules are is somehow ending up in court. It feels very different.’
The latest focus for Republicans in some places is on poll watchers, who are volunteers for candidates or political parties long used in elections.
They monitor voting places and local election offices and make note of potential problems as a way to challenge the voting or tabulating process.
The role of poll watchers or challengers has gained increased attention this year as Trump has pushed unfounded claims about the potential for voter fraud because of an increase in mailed-in ballots.
Trump has been urging his supporters to go to the polls and ‘watch very carefully,’ raising concerns about possible voter intimidation.
He has also falsely stated that poll watchers were ‘thrown out’ of a polling site in Philadelphia, where he has claimed without evidence that ‘bad things’ are happening.
In Nevada, Trump’s campaign and state Republicans went to court to try to stop the counting of Las Vegas-area mail-in ballots.
Republicans say observers aren’t allowed close enough to workers and machines at the busy vote-counting center in suburban Las Vegas to challenge signatures in the state’s biggest and most Democratic-leaning county.
A woman cleans a voting booth at a polling station located at the McFaul Activity Center in Bel Air, Harford County, during early voting in Maryland
Jesse Binnall, an attorney for the Republican Party and Trump campaign, told a judge Wednesday that the counting process observed in Las Vegas prevents what he called a ‘meaningful opportunity’ to challenge the validity of mailed ballots.
‘People who vote in person can have their ballot challenged,’ Binnall said. ‘People who vote by mail cannot.’
Nevada Democrats have called the lawsuit a ‘plain and simple’ effort to suppress votes in the state’s most diverse county.
‘Clark County is a blue county,’ Gregory Zunino, deputy Nevada state solicitor general, told the judge. ‘They quite frankly would like to exclude as many ballots or signatures in Clark County as they can.’
Nevada Republicans and the Trump campaign filed another lawsuit this week demanding the county’s registrar turn over names of Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisan ballot workers, election monitors and poll watchers along with details about their work instructions and shifts.
In Michigan, a candidate for the state House of Representatives sued this week, alleging coronavirus social distancing rules are preventing poll watchers from properly overseeing the election process.
The lawsuit was quickly resolved with an agreement that poll watchers can look at election books and approach poll workers when necessary.
Meanwhile, New Mexico’s highest court this week rejected a lawsuit brought by the state Republican Party alleging partisan poll challengers have been unfairly denied oversight of the initial ballot verification process.
The lawsuit from Republicans including several state legislators and county clerks alleged partisan challengers are being shut out of the initial verification process unnecessarily, based on privacy regulations.
In Philadelphia, Trump’s campaign filed a lawsuit this month demanding its campaign representatives be allowed to monitor people registering to vote or filling out mail-in ballots in election offices in the battleground state.
A judge ruled Pennsylvania law doesn’t allow such representatives to observe in election offices, and that decision was upheld by an appeals court.
Other lawsuits across the country involve when to stop counting mail-in ballots if received after Tuesday, bans on curbside voting in the pandemic, issues over drop boxes for voters and enforcing strict witness requirements.
Larry Krasner (left) threatened the president that if he sent any ‘uncertified poll watchers’ to the birthplace of American democracy: ‘I’ve got something for you’
A judge recently overturned a ban in Michigan that prevented open-carry guns at the polls.
And new lawsuits keep cropping up: A man in Maryland has sued the board of elections in Harford County following his arrest last week as he tried to vote without a face mask.
Pennsylvania officials have ordered ballots received after Tuesday to be segregated after a challenge pending before the Supreme Court on whether ballots can be counted after Election Day.
The lawsuits are adding to the confusion and uncertainty around the vote. And experts say legal challenges claiming the process was flawed will undoubtedly keep streaming in in the days after the election. But to have any chance of success, they’ll have to show evidence of real legal violations.
‘You know you’re going to see those lawsuits in part because the president has been saying that the election has been fundamentally unfair since the last election,’ said Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, a former Justice Department elections official.
But ‘the fact that you could file a lawsuit saying the election was fundamentally unfair because `fraud, maybe?!’ is not a thing that the courts will pay any attention to,’ he said.