What Are Segregated Ballots and Could They Affect the Outcome of the Election?

Amid accusations of fraud and shady dealings in the presidential election, officials in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Texas must segregate some ballots in the event they cannot be used in the final vote tally.

"Segregated" ballots, as the name suggests, are separated from the others per a judge's order. For the most part, they're separated because they arrived after polls closed on Tuesday, and at the heart of the issue is whether judges will later rule the ballots are invalid.

Going into the election, Pennsylvania was segregating mail-in ballots that arrived after Election Day because the Supreme Court said it eventually could throw them out as not being valid votes. The court previously rejected a request to fast-track a case involving a lower court's decision to allow ballots to be counted as long as they arrived within three days of Election Day.

Pennsylvania now also is separating ballots that lacked proper proof of identification. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump's campaign, which has heavily criticized Pennsylvania's election integrity, filed a lawsuit challenging an extension to the deadline for voters to validate their identity. Originally, voters had until November 9 to provide proof of identification if it initially was missing, but Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar extended it by three days to November 12.

Along with "undoubtedly" creating a "high risk of jeopardizing the integrity" of the election, the lawsuit argued that the extension also would unnecessarily delay the results of the election.

what is a segregated ballot election pennsylvania
Boxes of counted ballots are seen locked in the ballot storage area at the Philadelphia Convention Center on Friday in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania must segregate ballots that were received after Election Day and those that had the identity verified between November 10 and 12 per a judge's order. Chris McGrath/Getty

On Thursday, the court issued an order that Pennsylvania must segregate any ballots with identification issues that are corrected between November 10 and 12. They have yet to issue a ruling in the case, but a top state official doesn't see the ballots making a difference in the outcome of the election in the state.

Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman told TODAY on Friday that he doesn't think "those ballots are even going to be an issue." He added that former Vice President Joe Biden's lead likely will stand because the ballots that arrived before 8 p.m. on Election Day that aren't subject to being segregated are skewing in the former vice president's favor.

Days before the election, a federal appeals court ruled that Minnesota must segregate ballots that arrive after polls close on Election Day in Minnesota. The ruling came after Secretary of State Steve Simon agreed to a decree that allowed ballots to be counted up to seven days after the election as long as they were postmarked by Election Day.

Per the court's order, officials were instructed to separate the ballots in a way that would allow the votes to "be removed from vote totals in the event a final order" from a court renders them "invalid or unlawfully counted."

Simon called the decision "unnecessarily disruptive" and the substance of it "deeply troubling" during a press conference. He also criticized the court for issuing the decision so close to the election, saying it could have been decided "months ago."

Minnesota went for Biden by about 233,000 votes, according to the Associated Press, giving him 10 electoral votes. It's unclear if that tally includes the segregated ballots or if there were enough to change the outcome of the election in the state. Newsweek reached out to Simon for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Texas also has to segregate ballots received after Election Day in the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturns a state Supreme Court decision to allow for counting ballots that were received after the polls closed.

Trump took the Lonestar State by nearly six points, so it's unlikely the Trump campaign will pursue efforts in the Supreme Court regarding how ballots were counted and with Biden having multiple paths to victory, a battle in Texas isn't an effective use of legal resources.

The goal of having segregated ballots is for there to be an easy way of taking them out of the final vote tally in the event a court rules them invalid. However, if the number of segregated ballots won't change the outcome of the election, it's unclear if either campaign will put up a fight to have them thrown out.