Court Battles

Supreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama

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Poll worker Farah Famouri registers and takes a ballot during curbside voting on April 7, 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin. Residents in Wisconsin went to the polls a day after the U.S. Supreme Court voted against an extension of the absentee ballot deadline in the state. Because of the coronavirus, the number of polling places was…

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reinstated a ban on curbside voting in Alabama, reversing a court-ordered accommodation designed to protect disabled voters from exposure to the coronavirus.

The ruling, which halts the lower court order, appeared to break along ideological lines, with the court’s three more liberal justices dissenting. 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose dissent was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, said that as a result of the Wednesday ruling, “if those vulnerable voters wish to vote in person, they must wait inside, for as long as it takes, in a crowd of fellow voters whom Alabama does not require to wear face coverings.”

The dispute stems from a challenge to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s (R) position that curbside voting in the state is prohibited. Merrill has argued that casting ballots outside a polling place creates opportunities for fraud.

A federal district court judge sided with the challengers to block the restriction in counties that were prepared to stand up the option in time for the November election. A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit voted 2-1 to uphold the lower court order, sparking Merrill’s petition last week to the Supreme Court.

Not all of the justices revealed their votes, as is often typical of emergency applications. But the dissent by the court’s three more liberal justices means at least four of the court’s five more conservative justices agreed to halt the lower court decision.

The impact of the justices action in deep-red Alabama is far less likely to bear on the ultimate outcome of the 2020 presidential race compared to the court’s 4-4 deadlock earlier this week in an election dispute from Pennsylvania.

Polls show President Trump with a commanding lead over Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Alabama, but a much tighter race in Pennsylvania.

In the Pennsylvania case, the court’s 4-4 split Monday left intact a state court ruling requiring mail ballots to be counted as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3 — or have no legible postmark — and are received up to three days after Election Day.

Tags Alabama Donald Trump Elena Kagan Joe Biden Sonia Sotomayor Stephen Breyer

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