SCOTUS Deadlock on Key Pennsylvania Ballot Case Gives Biden Potential Advantage in Swing State

The Supreme Court of the United States denied an application on Monday for a stay on a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court about mail-in ballots in the state. The Pennsylvania State Senate Republican Caucus sought an emergency stay, but the eight-person court was deadlocked on the issue.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in September that mail-in ballots received within three days of Election Day on November 3 and postmarked November 3 must be counted. They also ruled that ballot envelopes received by November 6 with no postmark should be counted unless the "preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that it was mailed after Election Day."

Republicans had sought emergency relief from the U.S. Supreme Court but Chief Justice John Roberts apparently joined the court's liberals in denying the stay, creating a 4-4 deadlock. The court's rules require five justices to grant a stay.

The order simply noted that four justices would have granted the Republican application. They were Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The court gave no further explanation of its decision, which is not unusual in applications for an emergency stay.

However, some commentators pointed out that Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett might have delivered a result for Pennsylvania Republicans.

"SCOTUS just deadlocked 4-4 on whether Penn. can count mail ballots cast *on time* that arrive after Election Day," MSNBC host Ari Melber tweeted on Monday.

"So Amy Coney Barrett literally would be a deciding vote on that kind of question if it reached the Court in a contested election," he wrote.

Cristian Farias, a legal commentator and writer-in-residence at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, accused the conservative justices of trying to engage in voter suppression.

"That four of the conservative justices were trying to put the brakes on a state Supreme Court ruling interpreting a question of state law allowing voting on Election Day ... tells you all you need to know about how these justices won't stop at nothing to disenfranchise voters," he wrote.

"I have no doubt Amy Coney Barrett would've voted with these four, leading to tens of thousands of validly cast ballots to go uncounted," he said.

Pennsylvania is seen as key to President Donald Trump's chances of re-election. He edged out Hillary Clinton there in 2016 by 48.2 percent to 47.5 percent.

However, poll tracker FiveThirtyEight shows former Vice President Joe Biden ahead of Trump in Pennsylvania by 6.5 points up to October 18. The Democrat has enjoyed a consistent lead in the state.

NBC Philadelphia reported on October 19 that more than 1 million more Democratic voters than Republicans had requested mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, with 1.8 million registered Democrats asking for them. The total number of mail-in ballot requests was 2.8 million, with registered Republicans accounting for 700,000 of those.

The Supreme Court ruling will make it more difficult to reject mail-in ballots that arrive after November 3. This could prove advantageous to Biden if more Democratic voters opt to vote by mail.

Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden arrives at The Queen theater on October 19, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. According to the campaign, Biden is recording an interview with CBS 60 Minutes that will air on Sunday evening. Drew Angerer/Getty Images