Shanon Hankin, cleans a voter booth after it was used for voting at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center Tuesday,  April 7, 2020 in Madison, Wis.  Voters across the state are ignoring a stay-at-home order in the midst of a pandemic to participate in the state's presidential primary election. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)
How mail-in-voting could change the 2020 election
03:50 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The Supreme Court on Thursday night temporarily blocked a lower court order that would have cleared the way for more people in Alabama to vote by absentee ballot during Covid-19.

The vote was 5-4. The liberal bloc of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan noted their dissent.

Alabama allows any registered voter to vote absentee. At issue in the case are state requirements that require a copy of a voter’s identification to accompany an absentee ballot as well as a voter affidavit that has been notarized or signed by two witnesses.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall had asked the Supreme Court to step in and allow those requirements to go back into effect after they were blocked by a lower court, which cited the coronavirus pandemic.

The state says the measures were enacted to protect absentee ballot fraud and pointed out that during the pandemic it has taken “extraordinary measures,” including issuing a state of emergency and entering a series of orders meant to protect health.

But four voters who are elderly or disabled joined with voting rights groups to challenge the requirements, arguing they violated the right to vote. They also challenged the state’s ban on curbside voting.

A lower court blocked the requirements in three counties – Jefferson, Mobile and Lee – for the July 14 Senate runoff.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they were “deeply disappointed” by the court’s decision.

“Unfortunately, this means that Alabama voters who are at greater risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 will be required to risk their health and violate CDC recommendations in order to vote on July 14,” said Deuel Ross, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc., in a statement.

“Litigation will continue and we intend to seek relief for our clients and other voters in time for November,” Ross added.

This isn’t the first time the justices have weighed in on absentee voting this term. Earlier on Thursday the court denied a request from Texas Democrats to expedite a case concerning access to vote by mail in the state amid the coronavirus pandemic – making it highly unlikely that the issue will be decided in time for the November election.

Like Texas, Alabama was among 36 states that reported a rise in coronavirus cases this week compared with last week.

The court’s decision also comes as President Donald Trump has repeatedly disparaged voting by mail as prone to fraud. The President has claimed, without evidence, that there is systemic cheating with mail-in ballots and has made false accusations against states that are expanding absentee and mail-in options, despite voting by mail himself.

Numerous studies suggest that voter fraud is all but nonexistent in the US, and the President’s own voter fraud commission disbanded without finding any evidence to back up his claims.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, absentee or mailed ballots in several ways “are as secure or more secure than traditional methods of voting.” In most states, these ballots are examined and processed in advance of Election Day, spreading out the workload and allowing more time for scrutiny.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Jamie Ehrlich and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.