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What Supreme Court's ruling means for people who still have a mail-in ballot

Court ruling on Wisconsin case
Posted at 6:38 PM, Oct 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-27 22:57:03-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — If you’re still holding on to a mail-in ballot, return it using a method other than the U.S. Postal Service at this point.

That’s the recommendation from many election experts after a ruling this week by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In California, mail-in ballots have to be postmarked on or before November 3, but they can be received by county officials up to 17 days late and still count. That’s one of the most generous buffers of any state.

But in about 30 states, the deadline for receipt is November 3. Ballots that arrive after will be tossed out, even ballots that were postmarked well before Election Day.

The latest Supreme Court ruling dealt with a case out of Wisconsin, which had an Election Day deadline for ballot receipt set by state lawmakers.

A lower federal court sided with the Democratic National Committee and ruled the deadline for receipt should be extended because of the pandemic. An analysis by the Wall Street Journal found it took an average of 10 days for a piece of first class mail to reach its destination in Wisconsin.

But the Supreme Court ruled Monday 5-3 that state lawmakers should have the final say on this question, not the federal courts.

“That could have tremendous implications across the country because it suggests that the Supreme Court is going to defer to even strict rules that could have the effect of limiting the counting of certain ballots,” said legal analyst Dan Eaton.

Wisconsin is one of about 30 states with this deadline that ballots have to be received by Election Day, along with Pennsylvania and Michigan; two states with similar cases still pending.

Voters in those states are being urged to drop off ballots at official collection sites, not at the post office, or vote in person.

“This ruling does put pressure on people to make sure that their ballot is received in time,” Eaton said.

Eaton said concurrence opinions by Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch offer clues about how the high court could rule in other election-legal fights, particularly when Amy Coney Barrett joins the court. He said it could have an impact on states with a lot of late voters and close races, not just in the presidential contest.

“Remember that control of the Senate is very much in play and so this could matter in close Senate races,” Eaton said, citing races in Iowa, Colorado and North Carolina.