© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Supreme Court Hands Down Several Decisions On Ballots, Days Ahead Of Election Night


An astounding 82 million Americans have already cast their ballots either early in person or through the mail. But this week, there has been continued legal wrangling over counting those ballots. And that could still affect the outcome. We have NPR's Pam Fessler with us. She covers voting. Good morning, Pam.


GREENE: So we had this flurry of court decisions on ballot counting. Can you catch us up on what happened and what the impact might be?

FESSLER: Right. Well, the cases involved when absentee ballots have to be received in order to count in four states - Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on three of those. And for very different reasons, it said that Wisconsin's ballots have to be received by Election Day, but it allowed Pennsylvania and North Carolina to go ahead with plans to count ballots that arrive within a few days of Election Day as long as they're postmarked by then. Then last night, we had a federal appeals court that ruled that Minnesota has to set aside any ballots it receives after Election Day but before its November 10 deadline because of the likelihood of a future legal challenge. The most immediate impact of these decisions is that voters in Pennsylvania and North Carolina have a little more breathing room if they didn't get their ballots in already. But there's so much uncertainty that election officials are telling voters, don't wait. Get those ballots in as soon as possible, preferably by Election Day.

GREENE: Well, I also wonder, I mean, does this make it more likely that we could have a legal mess, I mean, after the election in the days and maybe even longer going forward?

FESSLER: Right. And it could. I think it really depends on just how close the election is, you know, how - and where. There almost certainly are going to be some legal challenges in some states. But it's really soon to tell, you know, what they might be. But they'll very likely involve these mail-in ballot deadlines. I mentioned that the court had ordered Minnesota to keep its late arriving ballots separate in case of more legal action. And so the same thing's being done in Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court decided not to hear its case before the election, but it left open the possibility of hearing it after the election. So Pennsylvania is also setting aside any mail-in ballots it receives between November 3rd and November 6th, which is its current deadline, just in case.

GREENE: Pam, you cover voting. There has been so much voting already. I mean, what does that say to you about this election?

FESSLER: Yeah, it's unbelievable, really, David. Just in Texas alone, more than 8 1/2 million people have already voted. And that's close to the total number of Texans who voted in 2016. And that's a state that has pretty limited mail-in voting options. So I think there are a couple of things that are - a few things that are going on here. A lot of voters, you know, obviously want to vote absentee because they don't want to, you know, go to the polls in person during a pandemic. Others are voting early because I think they're just eager to have their votes count. And they don't want to wait until Election Day and risk something happening that might prevent that. And third, I think some people are voting early almost as an act of defiance in the face of all these legal challenges. The Democrats especially have used the threat of voting restrictions as a pretty effective get-out-the-vote-message message. Now, Republicans, on the other hand, are focused a little bit more on Election Day turnout, which President Trump is trying to motivate in part by claiming without evidence that Democrats are trying to steal the election with these mail-in ballot deadlines.

GREENE: All right, Pam, I know it's going to be a very busy coming days for you.

FESSLER: (Laughter) You think?

GREENE: Thanks for all your reporting. NPR's Pam Fessler, thanks.

FESSLER: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.