Supreme Court Upholds Pennsylvania’s Late Ballot Arrival Deadline—for Now

An envelope of a Pennsylvania official mail-in ballot for the 2020 general election is shown, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, in Marple Township, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

By Keya Vakil

October 28, 2020

In a statement, conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch made it clear they could re-consider the Pennsylvania GOP’s petition after the election.

The US Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected Pennsylvania Republicans’ second attempt to block the state’s extended mail-in ballot deadline, leaving in place for now a state Supreme Court decision that allows county election offices to count ballots they receive by 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6.

While the decision upholds the state’s late ballot arrival deadline, it does so only temporarily, as the decision merely refused the Pennsylvania GOP’s request to expedite their lawsuit. In a statement, conservative justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch made clear they could re-consider the Pennsylvania GOP’s petition after the election. 

“Although the Court denies the motion to expedite, the petition [to review the case] remains before us, and if it is granted, the case can then be decided under a shortened schedule,” the trio of judges wrote. 

The decision came just hours after Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro wrote to the court, informing them that the state’s Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar directed counties to separate ballots received before 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, when the polls close, from those received Wednesday through Friday, in case the court decides to throw out those ballots in the future.

“Nothing in the Court’s order today precludes [Pennsylvania GOP] from applying to this Court for relief if, for some reason, it is not satisfied with the Secretary’s guidance,” the judges continued. 

Newly confirmed justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate in the case because she did not have time to review the parties’ filings, according to the court’s public information office. 

Keenly aware that the rules could still change at any moment, Pennsylvania leaders have urged voters to return any outstanding mail-in ballots to their local county election office or other officially designated site, including drop boxes.

“If you haven’t already, voters with mail ballots should immediately hand-deliver your ballot to your county-designated location,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement Tuesday. “Don’t wait until election day. Hand-delivering your own ballot now will give you the peace of mind that your vote will be counted, and your voice will be heard in this historic election.”

Election experts and US Postal service officials have also warned against returning ballots by mail at this stage, given potential delays.

The governor’s office also reiterated its step-by-step guide for voters, describing how to fill out their ballots:

  • Read the instructions.
  • Fill out the ballot, being sure to follow instructions on how to mark choices.
  • Seal the ballot in the white inner secrecy envelope that indicates “official ballot.” Do not make any stray marks on the envelope.
  • Place the inner secrecy envelope inside the pre-addressed, outer return envelope.
  • Complete and sign the voter’s declaration on the outer envelope and seal it shut.
  • A reminder: For the ballot to be counted, it must be enclosed in both envelopes and the voter must sign the outer envelope.


  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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