New York, Florida tell hospitals to speed COVID-19 vaccinations or lose supply

By Carl O’Donnell and Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The governors of New York and Florida sought to accelerate the slower-than-expected rollout of coronavirus vaccines by warning hospitals on Monday that they would reduce future allocations to those that fail to dispense shots quickly enough.

In New York, hospitals must administer vaccines within a week of receiving them or face a fine and loss of future supplies, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

“I don’t want the vaccine in a fridge or a freezer, I want it in somebody’s arm,” the governor said. “If you’re not performing this function, it does raise questions about the operating efficiency of the hospital.”

The U.S. federal government has distributed more than 15 million vaccine doses to states and territories around the country, but only around 4.5 million have been administered so far, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released on Monday.

The U.S. government has fallen far short of its target of vaccinating 20 million people by the end of 2020. Officials said they expect the rollout will pick up significantly this month.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams told CBS News that there are 15 million to 20 million doses of vaccine available.

“We should be hopeful about that while acknowledging we have got to do better and we are going to keep doing better,” Adams said. “And I promise you, you will see in these next two weeks numbers increase substantially.”

The United States had reported a total of 20.5 million COVID-19 cases and 351,480 deaths as of midnight on Sunday. On a seven-day rolling average, it is reporting 210,190 cases and 2,636 coronavirus deaths per day.

In Florida, where officials have put senior citizens ahead of many essential workers for getting the vaccine, Governor Ron DeSantis announced a policy under which the state would allocate doses to hospitals that dispense them most quickly,

“Hospitals that do not do a good job of getting the vaccine out will have their allocations transferred to hospitals that are doing a good job at getting the vaccine out,” DeSantis said at a briefing.

“We do not want vaccine to just be idle at some hospital system,” he added, though he did not say they would face fines.

Florida will also deploy an additional 1,000 nurses to administer vaccines and will keep state-run vaccination sites open seven days a week, he said.

New York has dispensed about 175,000 doses of the 896,000 it has received since mid-December, according to CDC data. Florida has dispensed 265,000 of the 1.14 million doses it received.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said obstacles were slowing his goal to have 1 million residents receive a first of two vaccine doses by the end of January. A little over 110,000 residents have received their first dose so far, according to city data.

De Blasio urged the state to broaden early eligible groups beyond healthcare workers and nursing home residents to include essential workers such as teachers, police officers, fire fighters, grocery store personnel and people who are more than 75 years old.

New York City currently has 125 vaccination sites and plans to double that by the end of the month, the mayor said.

“This has got to be a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour reality going forward,” de Blasio said.

Monday also marked the first day when some Americans were due to receive their second vaccine shot, three weeks after getting the first dose. Among them was Maritza Beniquez, a healthcare worker in Newark, New Jersey.

“I now have body armor,” she said after receiving the dose in a video posted on Facebook by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who was part of a small gathering that witnessed the event.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen, Carl O’Donnell, Rebecca Spaulding and Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg, Anurag Maan, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. Justice Department faults Acosta for ‘poor judgment’ over Epstein deal

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An internal Justice Department investigation has concluded that then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta exercised “poor judgment” by allowing financier Jeffrey Epstein to enter a non-prosecution agreement over alleged sex crimes, but cleared him and other prosecutors of any professional misconduct in their handling of the case.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Justice Department said that when Acosta let Epstein enter the non-prosecution agreement in 2008 that spared him from federal sex trafficking charges, he “failed to make certain that the state of Florida intended to and would notify victims identified through the federal investigation about the state plea hearing.”

The department added that while no federal prosecutors engaged in wrongdoing, Epstein’s victims “were not treated with the forthrightness and sensitivity” they deserved.

The controversial 2008 agreement with Epstein has come under intense scrutiny in recent years following an investigation by the Miami Herald. Under the terms of the deal, Epstein pleaded guilty to lesser state charges and served a brief stint in jail where he was granted daily work release.

At the time, Alex Acosta was serving as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Last year, federal prosecutors in New York were able to resuscitate the case and charged Epstein with sex trafficking of minors.

Acosta, who was serving as labor secretary then under President Donald Trump, initially tried to defend his role in the previous Epstein investigation. But he resigned amid growing pressure a few days later.

Epstein was found dead in his jail cell in New York of an apparent suicide about a month later.

His longtime friend Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested earlier this year and has pleaded not guilty to charges that she lured underage girls so that Epstein could sexually abuse them.

The findings by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility were announced earlier on Thursday by Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who blasted the agency for not taking a more forceful stance.

“Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn’t ‘poor judgment’ – it is a disgusting failure,” Sasse, who had requested the internal Justice Department probe, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Storm Eta drenches Tampa Bay, threatens more flooding as it moves offshore

(Reuters) – Tropical Storm Eta drenched Florida’s west coast on Thursday after making landfall north of Tampa Bay with 50 mile-per-hour (80 kph) winds, but the system weakened slightly as it moved across the northeastern part of the state and into the Atlantic.

Eta, the 28th named storm of the busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC), made its fourth landfall at around 4 a.m. on Thursday near Cedar Key, Florida, after it already slammed Central America, Cuba and the upper Florida Keys.

The storm had moved offshore into the Atlantic and was about 40 miles (65 km) north-northeast of Jacksonville on Thursday with maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour (65 kph), the NHC said.

Storm surge from Eta in Tampa Bay reached 3 to 4 feet (0.9-1.2 m) above ground inundation, the NHC’s Storm Surge Unit said. The NHC forecasted that swells along the Florida Gulf coast today and the southeastern U.S. coast tonight would be “life-threatening.”

Flooded streets in downtown Tampa resembled lakes and sailboats in Gulfport, a city on Tampa Bay, were beached and tipped over on Thursday, photos on Twitter showed.

The storm was expected to drop an additional 1 inch to 3 inches ((2.5-7.6 cm) of rain over the Florida peninsula on Thursday, adding up to a total of 20 to 25 inches of rainfall in parts of South Florida.

“Localized bands of heavy rainfall will continue to impact portions of the Florida Peninsula today, resulting in isolated flash and urban flooding, especially across previously inundated areas,” the NHC said.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Tropical Storm Eta targets Florida west coast as it nears fourth landfall

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – Tropical Storm Eta spun toward Florida’s west coast on Wednesday, nearing its fourth landfall in a matter of days, while threatening squall winds and storm surges, and prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency in 13 counties.

Eta, which had weakened slightly from its hurricane strength earlier on Wednesday to become a tropical storm, is the 28th named storm of the busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center. It was projected to make its fourth landfall early on Thursday, this time north of Tampa Bay, after it already slammed Central America, Cuba and the upper Florida Keys.

It had dropped nearly 18 inches of rain over parts of South Florida by Monday, moved southwest and then stalled over the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday before making a northward turn. It is was last moving on a north-northeast trajectory at 10 miles per hour (16 kph).

The storm was about 115 miles (180 km) south-southwest of Tampa, with maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour (110 kph)on Wednesday, the NHC said.

The west coast of Florida faces “the multiple threats of a landfalling hurricane or tropical storm,” said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, listing the heavy rainfall, storm surge and possible tornadoes in the forecast.

“One is of course the wind, which could be at the very least gusting to hurricane force, and sustained tropical storm force winds. That’s enough to do some damage,” Feltgen said.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 13 counties in Eta’s path on Wednesday and requested that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declare a pre-landfall state of emergency for those counties as well, to mobilize resources.

The storm surge from Eta was expected to affect southern and western Florida and the Florida Keys on Wednesday and Thursday. The state’s west coast was under a storm surge watch on Wednesday from the Suwanee River to Bonita Beach, including Tampa Bay, where the water could rise up to 5 feet.

“These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions,” the NHC said in an advisory.

Tampa International Airport said on Twitter it would suspend operations at 3 p.m. on Wednesday due to the impending storm.

Parts of Broward County, on Florida’s east coast, were still severely flooded on Wednesday, with lakes having overflowed and residential streets submerged. Rainfall totals from Eta could add up to 20 inches in some parts of South Florida, the NHC said.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky)

Trump lawsuits unlikely to impact outcome of U.S. election, experts say

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump called in his lawyers to shore up his dimming re-election prospects, but legal experts said the flurry of lawsuits had little chance of changing the outcome but might cast doubt on the process.

As Trump’s paths to victory narrowed, his campaign on Thursday was ramping up legal challenges and said it was planning to file its latest case in Nevada.

On Wednesday, the campaign sued in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia and asked to join a pending case at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Experts said the litigation serves to drag out the vote count and postpone major media from declaring Biden the victor, which would have dire political implications for Trump.

“The current legal maneuvering is mainly a way for the Trump campaign to try to extend the ball game in the long-shot hope that some serious anomaly will emerge,” said Robert Yablon, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School. “As of now, we haven’t seen any indication of systematic irregularities in the vote count.”

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement Wednesday the lawsuits were aimed at ensuring legal votes were counted.

“The lawsuits are meritless,” said Bob Bauer, who is part of Biden’s legal team. “They’re intended to give the Trump campaign the opportunity to argue the vote count should stop. It is not going to stop.”

Ultimately, for the lawsuits to have an impact, the race would have to hang on the outcome of one or two states separated by a few thousand votes, according to experts.

In Michigan and Pennsylvania, Trump asked courts to temporarily halt the vote counts because the campaign’s observers were allegedly denied access to the counting process.

The Michigan case was dismissed on Thursday but a Pennsylvania court ordered that Trump campaign observers be granted better access to counting process in Philadelphia.

At the Supreme Court, the campaign is seeking to invalidate mail-in votes in Pennsylvania that are postmarked by Election Day but arrive by the end of Friday.

In Georgia, the Trump campaign asked a judge to require Chatham County to separate late-arriving ballots to ensure they were not counted, but the case was dismissed on Thursday.

“There is no consistent strategy there,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. She said the campaign was “throwing theories at a wall to see if anything sticks for long enough to muck up the waters.”

Edward Foley, who specializes in election law at the Moritz College of Law, said the cases might have merit but only affected a small number of ballots and procedural issues.

“But merit in that sense is very different from having the kind of consequence that Bush v. Gore did in 2000,” said Foley.

In that case, the Supreme Court reversed a ruling by Florida’s top court that had ordered a manual recount and prompted Democrat Al Gore to concede the election to Republican George W. Bush.

The 2000 election improbably close, with a margin of 537 votes in Florida deciding the outcome.

The campaign is still challenging late arriving mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, which according to media reports numbered in the hundreds so far, likely too few to have a meaningful impact.

In addition, it appears increasingly likely Biden can win the race even if he loses the state.

Danielle Lang, who advocates for voting rights at Campaign Legal Center, said Trump has a long history of attempting to whip up mistrust in our electoral system.

“Allegations of ‘irregularities’ — backed up by lawsuits, even frivolous ones — could potentially serve that narrative,” she said.

Experts said the lawsuits and claims of fraud might be aimed at softening the sting of being bounced from office by calling the process into question.

“The litigation looks more like an effort to allow Trump to continue rhetorically attempting to delegitimize an electoral loss,” said Joshua Geltzer, a professor at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy & Protection.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Aurora Ellis)

New Jersey, Arizona approve recreational marijuana, Florida raises minimum wage

By Peter Szekely and Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) – Voters in New Jersey and Arizona legalized marijuana for recreational use on Tuesday, and in Oregon approved the country’s first therapeutic use for psilocybin, the hallucinogenic drug known as magic mushrooms.

The measures were among at least 124 statutory and constitutional questions put to voters this year in 32 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Here are some of the key results and projections from the ballots, which covered topics such as elections, abortion rights and taxes:

MARIJUANA

While voters in New Jersey and Arizona approved measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use, South Dakota was poised to allow the drug for both medical and recreational use: Its ballot measure that appeared headed to victory with 90 percent of precincts counted. A proposition legalizing medical marijuana also appeared headed for victory in Mississippi.

Since 1996, 33 other states and the District of Columbia have allowed medical marijuana, 11 had previously approved its recreational use and 16, including some medical marijuana states, have decriminalized simple possession, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

PSILOCYBIN, AKA MAGIC MUSHROOMSPsilocybin, a hallucinogen also known in its raw form as magic mushrooms, was approved by Oregon voters for therapeutic use for adults. Backers of the Psilocybin Services Act cited research showing benefits of the drug as a treatment for anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions. The measure will set a schedule to further consider the matter and create a regulatory structure for it.

In a related measure, Washington, D.C., voters approved Initiative 81, which directs police to rank “entheogenic plants and fungi,” including psilocybin and mescaline, among its lowest enforcement priorities.

MINIMUM WAGE Voters in Florida approved a measure to amend the state constitution to gradually increase its $8.56 per hour minimum wage to $15 by Sept. 30, 2026.

CALIFORNIA GIG WORKERS California voters approved a measure that would exempt ride-share and delivery drivers from a state law that makes them employees, not contractors, according to Edison Research. The measure, Proposition 22, is the first gig-economy question to go before statewide voters in a campaign. Backers, including Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc, spent more than $190 million on their campaign, making the year’s costliest ballot measure, according to Ballotpedia.

ABORTION

Colorado voters rejected a measure to ban abortions, except those needed to save the life of the mother, after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

ELECTIONS

California approved a measure to restore the right to vote to parolees convicted of felonies.

TAXES

In California, a proposal to roll back a portion of the state’s landmark Proposition 13 law limiting property taxes was too close to call Tuesday night. The measure, Proposition 15 on the state’s 2020 ballot, would leave in place protections for residential properties, but raise taxes on commercial properties worth more than $3 million. With about 80% of precincts partially reporting at 12:30 a.m. Pacific Time, the measure was slightly behind, with 51.5% of voters opposed to it and 48.5% in favor.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Philippa Fletcher)

U.S. postal service ordered to check for delayed ballots in key battlegrounds

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A judge ordered the U.S. Postal Service to sweep mail processing facilities on Tuesday afternoon for delayed election ballots and immediately dispatch any for delivery in about a dozen states, including closely-fought battlegrounds like Pennsylvania and Florida.

USPS data showed about 300,000 ballots that were received for mail processing did not have scans confirming their delivery to election authorities. While ballots may be delivered without scans, voting rights groups fear mail delays could cause at least some of those votes to be disqualified.

The ruling came in response to lawsuits brought by groups including Vote Forward, the NAACP, and Latino community groups.

Affected by the order are central Pennsylvania, northern New England, greater South Carolina, south Florida, Colorado, Arizona, Alabama and Wyoming, as well as the cities of Atlanta, Houston, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Lakeland, Florida.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered postal officials to complete the inspections by 3 p.m. ET (2000 GMT) and certify by 4:30 p.m. ET (2130 GMT) that no ballots were left behind.

Lawyers for the USPS told Sullivan in a court filing that the agency was not able to complete the sweeps by 4:30 p.m. but was “working as expeditiously as possible to comply with this court’s orders while recognizing physical and operational limitations and the need to avoid disrupting key activities on Election Day.”

It added inspectors would be in the identified facilities throughout the evening.

The Justice Department said postal inspectors were still conducting daily reviews of 220 facilities handling election mail, including reviewing logs for accuracy, scanning for delayed mail, and ensuring election mail was processed expeditiously and no ballots were being held for postage due.

Many states will only count mailed ballots that are received by the end of Tuesday in their election results.

In August, the USPS suspended cost-cutting moves such as removing post boxes and mail processing machines implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, an ally of President Donald Trump. State attorneys general and civil rights groups said the changes would slow election mail delivery and make it difficult for voters to participate during the coronavirus pandemic.

The postal service has said it had delivered 122 million blank and completed ballots before Tuesday.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Rosalba O’Brien)

Former felons among battleground Florida voters for the first time

By Simon Lewis

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) – Shikila Calder, 32, thought about voting early this year, but decided to save her vote – the first of her life – for Election Day on Tuesday.

“It made it special. It was exhilarating,” said Calder, one of potentially thousands of people with past felony convictions voting in a general election for the first time this year, after their rights were restored in a 2018 referendum.

Under Florida law, Calder had been denied the right to vote owning to a conviction for which she served time and repaid her debt to society a decade ago, she said after voting at a community center in the city of St. Petersburg.

“I have my voice back,” she said, a beaming smile visible in spite of her face mask. “I’m welcomed back into my community as a person and I don’t have that big label on me as a bad person.”

An amendment to Florida’s constitution was to restore voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million felons in the battleground state, ahead of the crucial election between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

But far fewer former felons were voting on Tuesday after the Republican-led Florida Senate passed a law last year requiring that only those who had paid all legal fines, fees and restitution associated with their convictions could register to vote.

The law was challenged by voting rights groups, which argued the law disproportionately impacted African Americans, who are more likely than whites to have felony convictions and more likely to owe financial obligations.

The U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed the challenge in July, leaving the law in place.

Donors, including NBA star LeBron James and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, have been helping to pay off former felons’ fines so they could vote, but it is unclear how many were able to register ahead of Tuesday’s election.

The Florida Rights Restoration Council, a campaign group that fought for the constitutional amendment, was expected to release an estimate of how many were able to vote.

Calder, who is black, said she has paid all obligations related to her sentence.

She said she voted for Biden because she trusted former President Barack Obama’s vice president to improve education and tackle racism in America.

Since serving prison time, Calder has trained as a phlebotomist and works at a St. Petersburg hospital.

“I don’t regret my past because it made me who I am today,” she said.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Explainer: U.S. election lingo, from naked ballots to a red mirage

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – Every U.S. presidential election has its own lingo, like the “hanging chads” on voting cards in Florida that led to a landmark court battle in 2000. Below is some of the jargon used in the days leading up to the Nov. 3 election pitting President Donald Trump against his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

NAKED BALLOTS

Sixteen states, including Pennsylvania, require voters to return mail ballots in a special “secrecy” envelope. Ballots that don’t arrive in the envelope will be considered “naked” and might be disqualified. Celebrities including Naomi Campbell, Chris Rock and Sarah Silverman disrobed in a video to promote proper voting procedures, “the least sexy thing a completely naked person can say,” according to actor Josh Gad, who also stripped for the video by activist group Represent.Us. The group, which has promoted anti-corruption resolutions in U.S. cities, says it does not endorse either candidate.

RED MIRAGE/BLUE SHIFT

Fearing crowded polling places amid the coronavirus pandemic, a record number of Americans, particularly Democrats, cast mail-in ballots this year, and counting them could take days. As a result, initial results on Election Day may show Republicans, indicated by red on election maps, holding large leads in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, which counts mail-in ballots received three days after Nov. 3. As ballots are tallied in the ensuing days, that “red mirage” could fade, giving way to a “blue shift.” Experts see a possible “blue mirage” and “red shift” in Florida and North Carolina, which process mailed-in ballots before Election Day.

SPOILED BALLOTS

Ballots that are improperly marked can be rejected as spoiled. Trump said in an Oct. 27 Twitter post that the phrase “can I change my vote” was trending on Google and urged Americans to submit a new ballot for him. Some states allow voters to request a new absentee ballot but first they have to request their original ballot be marked as spoiled. Following Trump’s tweet, Google data showed a spike in searches for “spoiled ballots.”

DUELING ELECTORS

A candidate becomes president by securing the most “electoral” votes rather than a majority of the national popular vote. The Electoral College system allots electors to the 50 states largely based on their population, and the candidate who wins the popular vote in a state generally gets its electors. But legal experts say Trump could try to convince Republican lawmakers in closely contested states to approve the Republican slate of electors based on early vote tallies. As more ballots are counted, Biden might eventually be certified as the winner of the same state. The result: Dueling electors and an outcome that could be determined by Congress.

COURT PACKING

Republicans confirmed Amy Coney Barrett as a Supreme Court justice on Oct. 26 to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a hero to many for her advocacy for women’s issues. Democrats had argued Ginsburg’s seat should be filled after the election and in response to Barrett’s confirmation some have suggested that a Biden Administration could expand the court beyond its traditional nine justices. The idea surfaced briefly in the late 1930’s and was criticized as “court packing.” Biden has said he will establish a bipartisan commission to consider changes to the court system, which he said is “getting out of whack.”

POLL WATCHERS

The Republican National Committee is mobilizing thousands of supporters to monitor early voting sites and ballot drop boxes, looking for irregularities such as people dropping off multiple ballots in states where that generally is not allowed. This marks the first presidential election in nearly four decades in which the Republicans can engage in “ballot security” activities without prior review and approval from the Department of Justice. Some voting rights advocates worry that gun-toting groups might show up outside polling places and intimidate voters.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Daniel Wallis)

Polarized electorate, mail-in ballots could spark post-election legal ‘fight of our lives’

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Del (Reuters) – U.S. Election Day on Tuesday has all the ingredients for a drawn-out court battle over its outcome: a highly polarized electorate, a record number of mail-in ballots and some Supreme Court justices who appear ready to step in if there is a closely contested presidential race.

The only missing element that would send both sides to the courthouse would be a razor-thin result in a battleground state.

“If it comes down to Pennsylvania and Florida I think we’ll be in the legal fight of our lives,” said Jessica Levinson, who teaches election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Election disputes are not unusual but they are generally confined to local or statewide races, say election law experts.

This year, in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 showdown between Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, the coronavirus pandemic fueled hundreds of legal challenges over everything from witness signatures, U.S. mail postmarks and the use of drop boxes for ballots.

“As soon as the election is over,” Trump told reporters on Sunday, “we’re going in with our lawyers.”

Two court rulings on deadlines for counting mail-in ballots have increased the likelihood of post-election court battles in the event of close outcomes in Pennsylvania and another crucial state, Minnesota, the experts said.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Oct. 29 that Minnesota’s plan to extend the deadline for counting mail-in ballots was an unconstitutional maneuver by Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat.

Minnesota officials were instructed to “segregate” absentee ballots received after Nov. 3.

Simon has said officials will not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but further litigation in the lower courts will determine whether those ballots will be counted.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 28, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling by Pennsylvania’s top court that allowed officials to count mail-in ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received up to three days later.

The justices said there was not enough time to review the state court ruling. As in Minnesota, Pennsylvania officials will segregate those ballots, teeing up a potential court battle in the event of a close election.

If any post-election battles are heard by the Supreme Court, it will have a 6-3 conservative majority after Trump-appointed Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed on Oct. 26. Three of the justices were appointed by Trump.

The president said in September that he wanted his nominee confirmed because the election “will end up in the Supreme Court and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”

Election law specialists said the likelihood of the Supreme Court deciding the next president would require an outcome amounting to a tie in a state that would tip the election to one candidate or the other.

“Some of the president’s statements suggest he thinks the Supreme Court would simply be asked to decide who won the election,” said Adav Noti, senior director of trial litigation at Campaign Legal Center. “That’s not how election litigation works.”

Only one presidential election has been decided in the courts in the past 140 years. In 2000, Republican George W. Bush defeated Al Gore, a Democrat, who conceded after losing a decision at the U.S. Supreme Court over a recount in Florida.

Elections are governed by state laws and disputes generally play out in state courts where campaigns fight over recounts and the validity of voter registrations.

But in recent decisions, a minority of conservative Supreme Court justices appear to be setting the stage to aggressively review state courts when they are interpreting their own state’s constitutional voting protections.

On Oct. 26, the court kept in place Wisconsin’s policy requiring mail-in ballots to arrive by Election Day. Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump appointee, wrote in an opinion accompanying the court’s action that “under the U.S. Constitution, the state courts do not have a blank check to rewrite state election laws for federal elections.”

Some scholars said the recent language could encourage campaigns to take an election challenge to the Supreme Court.

“It’s an invitation to challenge anything done to administer an election in a state that isn’t jot or tittle with what the legislature said to do,” Joshua Geltzer, executive director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy & Protection. “And that’s virtually everything.”

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Daniel Wallis)