U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court reinstates witness requirement for mail-in ballots in South Carolina

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday reinstated a South Carolina requirement for voters who use mail-in ballots to obtain the signature of a witness.

The Supreme Court stayed a judge’s order that had blocked the witness requirement, but the court added an exception. Any ballots already cast and received within two days won’t be subject to the witness requirement.

The Washington Post, the New York Times and SCOTUSblog have coverage.

There had been no witness requirement during the primary as a result of the judge’s ruling, and Democrats argued that the switch during the general election could confuse voters.

The Supreme Court did not provide reasons for its emergency order.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil M. Gorsuch and Samuel A. Alito Jr. would have reinstated the witness requirement without an exception for ballots already cast.

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote a concurrence that listed two reasons why he agreed with the Supreme Court’s order.

First, Kavanaugh said, the Constitution entrusts the safety and health of people to the states, and a state’s decision to keep or adjust election rules during the COVID-19 pandemic ordinarily should not be subject to second-guessing by the judiciary. Second, the Supreme Court has emphasized for many years that federal courts ordinarily should not alter election rules close to an election.

The court’s order follows two others dealing with witness requirements, according to the New York Times. In July, the Supreme Court reinstated a similar law in Alabama. But the court refused in August to reinstate a requirement for two witnesses in Rhode Island.

In August, the Supreme Court had pointed to differences in the Alabama and Rhode Island cases. State officials in Alabama wanted to reinstate the witness requirement, while Rhode Island officials had agreed to lift the requirement. In addition, the court said, the last election in Rhode Island was conducted without the witness requirement.

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