The justices were divided 4–4 over a bid by state Republicans to overturn a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that had allowed mail-in ballots to be received and counted until Nov. 6—three days after the Nov. 3 election even if they don’t have a postmark.
The outcome on the Supreme Court, which has one vacancy after the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, means the lower court ruling in favor of state Democrats stays in place. Top Republican leaders in Pennsylvania’s state Senate and the Republican Party in Pennsylvania had filed separate petitions to the Supreme Court on Sept. 28 arguing for an overturn of the ruling.
Five votes were needed for the Republicans to overturn the ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the three liberal-leaning justices in denying the request.
The court currently has a 5–3 conservative-leaning majority.
Pennsylvania is regarded as an important battleground state that President Donald Trump won in 2016 by about 44,000 votes.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which has a 5–2 Democratic majority, ruled on Sept. 17 that election officials can accept all mail-in ballots, including absentee ballots, up to three days after the Nov. 3 election, granting a request from the state’s Democratic Party.
In particular, the deadline was moved to 5 p.m. on Nov. 6 from 8 p.m. on Nov. 3, provided that the ballots are postmarked, or believed to be postmarked by 8 p.m. on election night. The court also let voters cast their ballots via drop boxes.
Democrat Kathy Boockvar, the Pennsylvania secretary of state, backed the three-day extension.
The court also ruled that ballots received on or before 5:00 p.m. on Nov. 6 that lack a postmark, a legible postmark, or other proof of mailing can still be counted and “will be presumed to have been mailed by Election Day unless a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that it was mailed after Election Day.”
Republicans, including Trump’s campaign, have opposed such an extension, arguing that it violates federal law that sets Election Day as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and that such a decision constitutionally belongs to lawmakers, not the courts.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.