- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to block Rhode Island from eliminating its witness requirement for mail-in ballots because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Republican National Committee and the Republican Party of Rhode Island had petitioned the high court for an injunction against the state’s easing of requirements for mail-in ballots. Rhode Island has statewide primaries in September and the general election Nov. 3.

Conservatives Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch would have granted the RNC’s request.

Republicans argued in court documents that the justices had granted an injunction against a lower court order that struck down similar mail-in ballot requirements in Alabama last month. They said Rhode Island shouldn’t be able to eliminate its witness requirements based on that precedent.

Rhode Island, like Alabama and more than a dozen other states, traditionally requires two witnesses or a notary for a mail-in ballot.

But because of the pandemic, liberal groups have challenged the states’ requirements, saying they make it unsafe for voters because of the spread of the coronavirus.

Rhode Island officials agreed to drop its witness requirement, complying with the liberal groups’ demands.

Republicans then unsuccessfully sought to halt the state officials from easing the requirements for the state’s mail-in ballots.

“When ballots are cast remotely, no one is watching, which increases the risk of ineligible and fraudulent voting,” the RNC argued.

But the high court said in its order Thursday that the Rhode Island case is different from the Alabama one since no Rhode Island state officials are defending its requirements. State officials in Alabama did defend its laws.

“Here the state election officials support the challenged decree, and no state official has expressed opposition. Under these circumstances, the applicants lack a cognizable interest in the state’s ability to ‘enforce its duly enacted’ laws,” the high court’s order states.

Liberal groups cheered the high court’s move, calling it a victory for democracy.

“We are very pleased that the Republican Party’s efforts to turn the fundamental right to vote into an episode of ‘Survivor’ has failed,” said Steven Brown, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island.

“We are grateful that our vulnerable plaintiffs and others like them will be able to vote securely from the safety and privacy of their homes as they did in June, without needing to risk their health or lives.”

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