The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a GOP-backed law in South Carolina which required a witness sign each absentee ballot, blocking a federal judge's order which had lifted the signature requirement due to the pandemic.
"A state legislature’s decision either to keep or to make changes to election rules to address Covid–19 ordinarily should not be subject to second-guessing by an unelected federal judiciary," wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The Supreme Court order is a blow to Democrats in a state where they are trying to unseat a high-profile senator -- Republican Lindsey Graham. Polls show Democrat Jaime Harrison in a close race with Graham in the Republican-leaning state.
The Supreme Court said its order -- and the witness requirement --wouldn’t apply to ballots that have already been cast and arrive within two days. Officials have already received more than 8,000 ballots. -Bloomberg.
And while the order won't apply to ballots which have already been cast, conservative justices Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch said they would have applied the witness requirement even to those which had been.
According to angry Democrats, the Supreme Court intervention could inject confusion so close to election day - potentially disenfranchising thousands of voters in a state which is letting every voter request a mail-in-ballot for the first time. Over 150,000 ballots have already been sent out.
"Any voter who, to date, has returned their absentee ballot without a witness signature has done so lawfully," wrote the South Carolina Democratic Party and its allies in court papers, adding that voters would "face certain disenfranchisement through no fault of their own."
The state has had a witness requirement for absentee ballots since 1953, which was suspended for the June primary.
Republicans, meanwhile, told the Supreme Court that Democrats are trying to enact a last-minute rule change to usurp the power of the state's elected leaders, adding that the state legislature made a conscious decision to leave the witness rule intact.
"Courts are not equipped to second guess the health and safety determinations of South Carolina’s elected representatives, including the determination that the witness requirement can be satisfied safely," argued a group which includes the South Carolina Republican Party.