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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 BidenMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Biden says staff has spoken with Fauci: 'He's been very, very helpful' MORE, who are more likely than President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race 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 KavanaughCOVID-19: Justice Alito overstepped judicial boundaries Defusing the judicial confirmation process The magnificent moderation of Susan Collins 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 ThomasDefusing the judicial confirmation process Will the Supreme Court take ObamaCare off life-support? The overlooked significance Kamala Harris brought to the Biden-Harris ticket MORE, Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoAlito to far-right litigants: The buffet is open No thank you, Dr. Fauci COVID-19: Justice Alito overstepped judicial boundaries MORE and Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchCOVID-19: Justice Alito overstepped judicial boundaries Defusing the judicial confirmation process Reinvesting in American leadership 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.