US Supreme Court says no to immediate halt of Pennsylvania count

An electoral worker stands next to boxes with ballot material in Philadelphia on Nov 6, 2020.
An electoral worker stands next to boxes with ballot material in Philadelphia on Nov 6, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US Supreme Court justice on Friday (Nov 6) denied a request by Pennsylvania’s Republicans to immediately halt the counting of ballots arriving after Election Day – referring the challenge to the full court for a ruling on Saturday.  

Samuel Alito ordered Pennsylvania in the meantime to continue keeping the late-arriving ballots separate, affirming a decision already made by the state’s top elections official.  

The last-ditch petition for an emergency injunction – filed as Democrat Joe Biden solidified his lead and was poised to defeat President Donald Trump – targeted thousands of ballots.  

Most are believed to favour Biden, and Republicans say they should be disqualified under Pennsylvania state law.  

As a first step, the party wanted the high court to order ballots arriving after after 8pm on election night to be kept apart from others and prevent them from being tallied.  

The concern is that if they are mixed with other ballots, it would render any attempt to disqualify them impossible.  

“Given the results of the November 3, 2020 general election, the vote in Pennsylvania may well determine the next president of the United States,” the Republicans said.  

“It is unclear whether all 67 county boards of elections are segregating late-arriving ballots,” the petition added.  Republicans have for months been fighting a state decision to accept mail-in ballots postmarked by November 3 and arriving by Friday.

The state supreme court ruled the decision legal and it was then appealed in the federal system up to the Supreme Court.

On Oct 19 the US high court, which had a vacant seat at the time, declined to take the case, splitting 4-4, conservatives vs. liberals. But it also indicated it could take up the case after the vote, and now it has nine members after the Trump-nominated conservative Amy Coney Barrett joined in late October.

The Republican request did not provide any evidence that the ballots are not being segregated already, but said that without a Supreme Court intervention, the Pennsylvania secretary of state could change the guidance given the 67 county boards.

If the court does issue a stay and accepts the case, it has the potential of ruling invalid the late-arriving ballots, which the state is segregating from others at the moment.

But it might not make a difference - the number of late ballots might be significantly fewer than Mr Biden's lead over Mr Trump in the state.