The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday evening gave new life to a South Carolina law that says voters must have a witness sign mail-in ballots for the upcoming November general election. In a brief, half-page order, the nation’s high court reinstated the requirement pending the outcome of already in-progress appellate proceedings.
The witness requirement was struck down by a South Carolina district court in late May of this year as an inappropriate burden on voters amidst the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Democrats sued to have the witness requirement rescinded while Republican officials in the State claimed the requirement was a burden that is necessary to protect against potential fraud.
Siding with the voting rights plaintiffs, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina said, “the burdens placed upon [voters] by the Witness Requirement far outweigh the imprecise, and ineffective, state interests of combating voter fraud and protecting voting integrity.”
Executive Director of the South Carolina State Election Commission Marci Andino, a Republican, appealed the lower court’s ruling to the appellate level but also sought to short-circuit the voting rights win by appealing directly to her ideological peers on the Supreme Court. In less than three days, her peers answered the call.
The district court’s ruling enjoined South Carolina election officials from enforcing the witness requirement, but the high court’s Monday nightopinion stayed that injunction–meaning that ballots cast after the opinion was issued are subject to being rejected.
Hundreds of thousands of ballots, however, have already been mailed to voters and nearly 20,000 ballots have been returned. The court’s decision allows a tiny window of leeway for ballots still in the mail.
The court notes that “any ballots cast before this stay issues and received within two days of this order may not be rejected for failing to comply with the witness requirement. “In other words, as long as a ballot was in the mail and is received by October 7, the witness requirement cannot legally be used as a basis for such ballots being rejected.