Supreme Court Restores Witness Requirement for South Carolina Absentee Ballots

October 6, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – Within hours of the start of its new term on Monday, the Supreme Court revived a South Carolina law that requires absentee ballots to be returned accompanied by a witness’s signature.

Lower courts had set aside the law, holding it interfered with the right to vote during a pandemic.

Though the court as a whole did not explain its rationale for upholding the law, in a concurring opinion Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the conservative majority was correct because state election laws should not be second-guessed by federal judges.

He also noted the Supreme Court has typically refrained from ordering changes to voting procedures so close to an election.

The justices did carve out exceptions to the witness requirements, applying it to ballots cast before they rendered their decision and those received by election officials within two days of the justices’ order.

But Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr. and Neil Gorsuch said they would have reinstated the requirement for all ballots.

The underlying lawsuit was filed by Democratic groups and several South Carolina voters. On the other side were state officials and the South Carolina Republican party, who argued the witness requirement was a not an undue burden and that the practice helped prevent fraud.

U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs disagreed, finding the requirement served no useful purpose.

“The fact the witness requirement may provide a lead to investigate absentee fraud is undercut by an utter dearth of absentee fraud,” Childs noted.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals initially overruled the judge, but the full Appeals court reinstated Childs’ injunction.

State officials then appealed to the Supreme Court.

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