State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Tag: Purcell v. Gonzalez

Supreme Court Overturns Lower Courts’ Rulings on South Carolina’s Absentee Ballot Witness Requirement

On October 5, 2020, the Supreme Court stayed the South Carolina Federal District Court’s September 18, 2020 order enjoining the South Carolina State Election Commission (“SCEC”) from enforcing the state’s witness requirement for absentee ballots. The witness requirement refers to South Carolina law that requires another person to witness an absentee voter’s signature on the absentee ballot envelope for the November 2020 general election. The law requires the witness to sign the absentee ballot envelop and provides that noncompliant absentee ballots “may not be counted.” However, the Supreme Court’s order granted a narrow exception for ballots if they were cast before the Court issued this stay and were “received within two days” of the order.

It would have been helpful if the Court’s majority had explained the rationale behind its order, given that it overturned both the district court and the Fourth Circuit, which had refused to stay the district court’s preliminary injunction when it considered the matter en banc. The only rationale in the Court’s opinion was provided by Justice Kavanaugh, who concurred with the majority based on “two alternative and independent reasons.” However, as shown below, Kavanaugh’s reasons alone do not seem to provide adequate justification for issuing the stay.

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Squaring State Legal Challenges with Purcell

By Fiona Carroll

Following the near-disastrous administration of Georgia’s June primary, there are a number of suits pending that will determine how, when, and whether some voters may engage in the general election next month.

Just in the last week, courts have been sorting out how ballots will be counted. One of the most contentious of these issues involves Georgia’s absentee ballot reception deadline. With the current public health situation, demand for mail-in voting has skyrocketed. Voting rights advocates urged state election officials to extend the period for which county election offices would count ballots postmarked by Election Day to the three days following the general election. When officials refused, voting rights advocates sought an injunction to force the State to extend the deadline.

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