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Supreme Court reinstates witness requirement for South Carolina absentee ballots

The Supreme Court on Monday reinstated a restriction in South Carolina requiring that absentee voters provide a witness signature along with their ballot.

The ruling was a win for Republicans who had asked the justices to revive the rule in order to mitigate potential voter fraud, though election law experts say their concerns are not based in reality and that mail-in voting is safe.

The order largely reversed a lower court that had sided with challengers who said the need to obtain a witness signature created an unconstitutional burden on voting rights during the pandemic. But the order does not apply to votes that were already cast or are received within the next two days.

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The restriction is likely to have a greater impact on supporters of Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors Biden celebrates vaccine approval but warns 'current improvement could reverse' MORE, who are more likely than President TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE’s backers to vote by mail.

The development comes as recent polling shows that Trump and Biden are in a statistical dead heat in South Carolina, which has not gone for the Democratic nominee in more than 40 years.

Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMedia circles wagons for conspiracy theorist Neera Tanden The Jan. 6 case for ending the Senate filibuster Laurence Tribe: Justice Thomas is out of order on 2020 election MORE, a Trump appointee, said reinstating the restriction is appropriate because it is supported by state election officials and could help avoid disruption that may accompany the lifting of the witness requirement just weeks away from the vote.

“For many years, this Court has repeatedly emphasized that federal courts ordinarily should not alter state election rules in the period close to an election,” Kavanaugh wrote.

The court’s more conservative members — Justices Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasLaurence Tribe: Justice Thomas is out of order on 2020 election Supreme Court won't review Pennsylvania GOP election lawsuits A powerful tool to take on the Supreme Court — if Democrats use it right MORE, Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoLaurence Tribe: Justice Thomas is out of order on 2020 election Supreme Court won't review Pennsylvania GOP election lawsuits A powerful tool to take on the Supreme Court — if Democrats use it right MORE and Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchThe Jan. 6 case for ending the Senate filibuster Laurence Tribe: Justice Thomas is out of order on 2020 election McConnell backs Garland for attorney general MORE — would have gone further by requiring those who have already cast absentee ballots without a witness signature to vote again. 

There were no noted dissents from the order.