The Supreme Court on Oct. 21 put on hold a lower court order that would have permitted curbside voting in Alabama in November.
The vote was 5-3, with the court’s three liberal-leaning justices dissenting. As is typical when the Supreme Court acts on an emergency basis, the justices in the majority did not explain their decision. It was not clear how many counties might have offered curbside voting, allowing people to vote from their car by handing their ballot to a poll worker.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissent joined by Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Elena Kagan, described the lower court’s order allowing curbside voting in November as “modest,” and she said she would not have put it on hold.
“It does not require all counties to adopt curbside voting; it simply gives prepared counties the option to do so. This remedy respects both the right of voters with disabilities to vote safely and the State’s interest in orderly elections,” she said, noting that 28 states permit curbside voting.
The lawsuit was a challenge to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s position that curbside voting is not allowed. Merrill had argued that voting outside polling places opens the door to fraud. A federal court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and a circuit court upheld the order, leading to Merrill’s pleading to the Supreme Court, which currently has one vacancy after the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month.
The Supreme Court earlier this week voted 4-4 on a petition from Pennsylvania concerning mail ballots. The deadlock left in place a state court ruing that allows for the counting of mail ballots postmarked by Nov. 3—Election Day—as well as ballots with postmarks which arrive up to three days after Nov. 3.
A federal appeals court ruled on Oct. 20 to uphold a deadline extension in North Carolina for the receipt and counting of absentee ballots to nine days from three.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals denied injunctive relief, pending appeal, in a lawsuit that was brought by Republican legislative leaders seeking to reimpose a three-day window after Election Day for receiving and counting mail-in ballots, which the State Board of Elections last month agreed to expand to nine days.
“The deadline extension only changes two things: more votes cast by mail will be counted rather than discarded because of mail delays, and fewer voters will have to risk contracting the novel coronavirus by voting in person,” Judge James Wynn said in the opinion.
More than 43 million votes have already been cast early, according to a tracker maintained by the U.S. Elections Project.
Tom Ozimek and The Associated Press contributed to this report.