The US Supreme Court has allowed election officials in two battleground states, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, to accept absentee ballots for up to nine days after Election Day.
The US Supreme Court rejected a request by President Donald Trump's campaign to block North Carolina's extension of the deadline for receiving mail-in ballots in the latest voting case ahead of Tuesday's election.
The justices left in place a lower court-approved agreement allowing the extension, rebuffing a request by Trump's campaign, the Republican National Committee and North Carolina Republican officials for an injunction to block it.
The state election board, citing potential US Postal Service mail delivery delays, opted to allow absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted if they arrived up to nine days later.
Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said they would have blocked the deadline extension.
In a dissenting opinion, Gorsuch said last-minute rule changes by a state election board can "invite confusion, risk altering election outcomes, and in the process, threaten voter confidence in the results". The election board impermissibly rewrote state election laws, a power reserved to the legislature, he wrote.
The decision in the North Carolina case was the second setback for Republicans after the justices earlier on Wednesday declined to fast track a decision on whether to hear a Republican bid to block an extended mail-in ballots deadline in Pennsylvania. Both states are to pivotal to Trump's re-election chances.
The court's newest justice, Amy Coney Barrett, a Trump appointee, did not participate in either case. She did not have time to fully review the case filings, a court spokeswoman said in a statement.
The North Carolina dispute is among a number of election-related lawsuits in states around the country over rules governing voting in the November 3 election. Americans are casting early ballots at a record-breaking pace that could lead to the highest voter turnout by percentage in more than a century.
Many states have expanded mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic, with voters wary about the spread of the virus at crowded polling places.
Trump has made unfounded claims that voting by mail – a common practice in US elections – is rife with fraud. Such fraud is exceptionally rare in the United States, according to experts.
The North Carolina dispute centered on an agreement by the state election board, approved by a state court on October2, to extend the absentee ballot deadline after advocacy groups filed a legal challenge.
The Trump campaign and state Republicans sought an injunction in federal court but on October 20, in a 12-3 vote, the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the request, saying that under Supreme Court precedent, federal courts must refrain from disturbing state election rules so close to an election.