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Factbox: Court battles shape presidential election, as Republicans score Wisconsin victory at U.S. Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With both sides in the U.S. presidential election dueling in court ahead of the Nov. 3 vote, Republicans scored a significant victory on Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court held that officials in the battleground state of Wisconsin cannot count mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day.

FILE PHOTO: A SafeVote official ballot drop box for mail-in ballots is seen outside a polling site at the Milwaukee Public Library’s Washington Park location in Milwaukee, on the first day of in-person voting in Wisconsin, U.S., October 20, 2020. Wisconsin’s early voting period, known as absentee in-person voting, began October 20. REUTERS/Bing Guan/File Photo

But the Democratic National Committee has also notched important wins, including an extension in counting mail-in ballots in another battleground state, Pennsylvania.

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted hundreds of lawsuits over how people can cast their ballots. Americans, fearing the coronavirus, are expected to vote by mail in record numbers.

Below are some of the biggest victories President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

TRUMP WINS

-- FIGHT OVER MAIL-IN BALLOTS IN WISCONSIN

Wisconsin election officials cannot count mail-in ballots that arrive after the Nov. 3 elections, a conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday, dealing a significant setback to Democrats.

The 5-3 ruling left in place a decision by the U.S. 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that it was too close to Election Day to make significant modifications to the voting process.

The high court’s order was issued just before the Senate voted to confirm Trump’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the bench, Amy Coney Barrett.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan dissented, saying that the majority’s decision would “disenfranchise large numbers of responsible voters in the midst of hazardous pandemic conditions.”

Wisconsin is crucial to Trump’s re-election chances against Biden.

Democrats had argued that ballots postmarked by Election Day that arrive up to six days later should be tallied, saying such a policy would protect the right to vote amid a surge in mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic.

-- TEXAS SIGNATURE REQUIREMENT

A federal appeals court on Oct. 19 said Texas does not have to give voters a chance to correct mail-in ballots that are rejected because the signature does not match the one on file with the state.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted a lower court order that gave voters an opportunity to correct, or “cure,” the defect.

The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by a voting rights group against Republican Party officials in Texas, a longtime Republican stronghold that may be up for grabs this year.

-- TEXAS MAIL-IN BALLOT BATTLE

On Oct. 8 the Texas Supreme Court ruled that officials in the state’s most populous county, a Democratic stronghold that includes Houston, cannot send out unsolicited applications for mail-in ballots to its 2.4 million registered voters.

Unlike other states, Texas limits mail-in voting to those who are 65 and older, cite a disability or illness, are in jail but otherwise eligible, or are outside the county where they are registered.

-- FLORIDA RESTRICTS EX-FELONS’ RIGHT TO VOTE

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that Florida can require felons to pay fines, restitution and legal fees they owe before they regain their right to vote.

By a 6-4 vote, it reversed a lower court ruling that the measure amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. Five of the six judges in the majority were appointed by Trump.

Former felons in Florida are more likely to register as Democrats, according to an analysis published this month by the Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald and ProPublica.

Nearly 900,000 Floridians with felony convictions will be unable to vote in the election because of the decision, according to an Oct. 14 study by the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform group.

-- MICHIGAN COUNTING DEADLINE

A Michigan appeals court ruled on Oct. 16 that ballots received after 8 p.m. on Nov. 3 cannot be counted, reversing a ruling by a state court judge in Detroit and changing the battleground state’s voting rules just over two weeks before the election.

BIDEN WINS

-- PENNSYLVANIA LAWSUIT OVER MAIL-IN DEADLINES

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on Sept. 17 that officials in the closely contested state can accept mail-in ballots three days after the Nov. 3 election, so long as they were postmarked by Election Day.

The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday it would leave that decision in place, turning away an appeal by the state Republican Party and Republican officials.

Republicans have since made another request for the Supreme Court to review the case.

Republicans did prevail on one key issue at Pennsylvania’s high court. Interpreting a state law, the court said officials must throw out “naked ballots” — ballots that arrive without inner “secrecy envelopes.”

Republicans argued the secrecy sleeves help deter fraud. Democrats have warned the ruling could lead to more than 100,000 votes being thrown out.

-- TEXAS BALLOT DROP-OFF SITES

Drop boxes have become a partisan flash point, with Democrats promoting them as a safe option for voters unnerved by the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. Postal Service delivery problems. Republican officials and Trump’s campaign have argued without evidence that the boxes could enable voting fraud.

Democrats scored a win in Texas on Oct. 23 when a state appeals court ruled that Republican Governor Greg Abbott cannot limit counties to a single location for mail ballot drop off sites. That order is on hold while it is being reviewed by the Texas Supreme Court.

The appeals court said that limiting the number of drop boxes would raise the risk that voters could be infected by the coronavirus and would infringe on their constitutional right to vote.

-- PENNSYLVANIA JUDGE REJECTS VOTER FRAUD CLAIMS

On Oct. 10, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Ranjan in Pittsburgh, a Trump appointee, rejected a bid by the Trump campaign and the Republican Party to limit the use of drop boxes in Pennsylvania.

Ranjan wrote that the plaintiffs failed to prove a risk of voter fraud. “At most, they have pieced together a sequence of uncertain assumptions.”

Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis

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