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South Carolina officials want to bring back ballot witness requirement

The Supreme Court is likely to let state officials bring back the witness requirement because it strongly disfavors efforts to change voting rules close to an election.

WASHINGTON — South Carolina officials are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block a lower court ruling that suspends the requirement for mail-in ballots to be signed by a witness as well as the voter.

In adopting some accommodations for the coronavirus pandemic, the state Legislature deliberately refused to suspend the requirement, considering it a tool for deterring fraud. But in response to a lawsuit from Democrats, a federal judge ordered the state not to enforce the requirement and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

State officials say more than 150,000 absentee ballots have already been mailed out.

“Each passing day increases the risk that ballots will be returned that, in mistaken reliance on the district court’s injunction, do not comply with the witness requirement," officials wrote in their motion.

Their emergency appeal was directed to Chief Justice John Roberts, who handles cases from the Fourth Circuit. He will likely ask for a response from South Carolina Democrats and then refer to the case to the full court.

In August, the Supreme Court declined to block a lower court ruling that had suspended a requirement for two witness signatures on mail ballots in Rhode Island. In that case, however, the secretary of state favored suspending the witness requirement. In South Carolina, the election officials want to keep the requirement active.