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Supreme Court declines GOP motion against mail-in ballot extension in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania can accept mail ballots received up to three days after Election Day, despite objections from state Republicans, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday evening. 

The high court split 4-4 on a motion from the top Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate to halt a ruling from the state's top court. Amid mail delivery delays, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had ruled in September that the late ballots would be accepted so long as they don't have a postmark clearly showing they were mailed after Election Day.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pennsylvania Democrats have repeatedly asked local courts for a ballot extension, and Republicans have consistently resisted any extension.  Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, initially opposed litigation seeking an extension, but changed her mind after she received a letter from USPS in June that warned the state's deadlines were out of sync with the Postal Service's delivery times. 

All four conservative justices approved of the state GOP request, but Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the three liberal justices in opposition, resulting in a tied vote. This meant the lower court's ruling stood. 

In Pennsylvania's June primary, Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, issued an executive order allowing a half dozen counties to count ballots received up to a week after Election Day if they were postmarked by that day. A local court granted a similar extension to a seventh county. 

In all, Pennsylvania received 100,000 mail-in ballots after the state's primary election, about 90% of which were counted due to the governor's order, Boockvar testified in a separate state court case in late August. That's over twice the 44,000 vote margin President Donald Trump won the state in 2016. 

Those late votes are likely to skew Democratic, considering that 64% of the state's mail ballot requests have come from Democrats and only 25% have come from Republicans. The ruling also ensures that a chunk of the state's votes will go uncounted on Election Night. 

In a similar case in Wisconsin, a federal appeals court has blocked a six-day extension granted by a lower federal judge, and this case, too, Democrats have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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