SCOTUS declines GOP challenge to Rhode Island’s plan waiving absentee ballot requirements

As elected officials nationwide push for a shift toward widespread mail-in ballots ahead of November’s election, a number of Democratic-led states have started to implement such plans for their residents.

One example is Rhode Island, where election officials have waived certain requirements related to absentee ballots, prompting a lawsuit from state Republicans that was shot down by U.S. Supreme Court justices this week, as reported by Politico.

Conservative justices dissent

Many Democrats have cited the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as a sufficient cause to justify universal mail-in voting, though GOP critics say it could be an invitation to escalated election fraud.

While Rhode Island voters seeking to vote by mail were previously required to have their ballot envelope signed by two witnesses or certified by a notary public, Democratic officials waived that requirement at the urging of activists.

Both the Republican National Committee and the Rhode Island Republican Party opposed the move, however, and filed an emergency application with the nation’s highest court for a stay that would block the changes from being implemented, according to Politico.

In a one-page order issued on Thursday, justices announced that they would decline to take up the GOP request. It is unclear where each of the justices aligned on the case individually and the order was handed down unsigned.

It did note, however, that three conservative justices — Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas — dissented from the rest and would have granted the applicant’s request.

“Lack a cognizable interest”

Just last month, the court ruled 5–4 to overturn a lower court’s order for Alabama to waive ballot security measures like a signature requirement similar to that being waived in Rhode Island, as Politico reported.

The apparent difference between the two cases was addressed in the most recent order, which noted that “the state election officials support the challenged decree, and no state official has expressed opposition” in the Rhode Island case, unlike those in Alabama and elsewhere.

“Under these circumstances, the applicants lack a cognizable interest in the State’s ability to ‘enforce its duly enacted’ laws,” the Supreme Court ruled, according to Politico. “The status quo is one in which the challenged requirement has not been in effect, given the rules used in Rhode Island’s last election, and many Rhode Island voters may well hold that belief.”

Of course, a number of Republicans lamented the ruling, including Republican National Committee press secretary Mandi Merritt, who said it “ignores election laws that have been on the books for decades.”

While the Trump administration has cited election security as a major factor heading into the final weeks of the campaign, plenty of Democrats seem willing to bypass these safeguards in the effort of expanding mail-in voting.

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