After Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden pulled ahead of President Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, a state court has ordered election officials to stop counting some votes.
The ruling issued on Friday could delay the completion of voting in the state, where a victory could give the presidency to Biden.
The order applies to so-called provisional ballots, a second vote which some voters were allowed to cast on election day to correct errors in postal ballots that they had already sent in.
Ruling on cases filed by Republican Party members, the court said that such ballots should be kept separately pending a decision, but rejected demands that they should be rejected outright.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, about 100,000 provisional ballots were cast, but it was not clear how many of them were covered by the court’s order.
Another state Republican Party case asking the federal Supreme Court to stop the counting of late-arriving postal ballots is pending.
The party asked the court on Thursday to order the election authorities in the state to keep the ballots received after election day separately and not act on them, pending a ruling on the legality of the late-arriving ballots.
A state court had extended the deadline for receiving postal ballots till 5 p.m. on Friday.
Trump was leading in the state by nearly 200,000 on Wednesday but the tables had turned and Biden was ahead by about 13,000 on Friday afternoon with 98 per cent of the votes in when the Republicans mounted the challenge.
If Biden wins Pennsylvania, he will have more than the 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.
Rather than the popular votes, the votes in the electoral college of state representatives determine who will be president.
The Republican Party acknowledged in its Sureme Court filing that “the vote in Pennsylvania may well determine the next President of the United States”.
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said on Thursday that the late-arriving votes were being kept separately but may be counted.
Trump claimed on Thursday that he would have won but for the “illegal votes”, referring to the postal votes arriving after the polls closed.
The Supreme Court has mostly deferred to state courts on election matter because the constitution puts the responsibility for holding elections on state legislature.
The Republicans may be counting on a narrow reading of the constitutional provision and could argue that the federal court has jurisdiction because the extension was granted by a state court and not by the legislature as mentioned in the constitution.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic there has been greater use of postal ballots, with some states like California and New Jersey sending them to all registered voters.
Some states have extended the deadlines for receiving postal ballots because the large volume and post office delays.
Trump has said that the wide use postal ballots has led to abuse.
On Thursday, he accused the Democrats of trying to steal the election by using the postal ballots.
“If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us. If you count the votes that came in late — we’re looking at them very strongly,” he said.
His claim was criticised by most of the media and politicians in his party as undermining people’s trust in elections.
Biden said, “Each ballot must be counted and that’s what is going on now. And that’s how it should be. Democracy is sometimes messy, so sometimes it requires a little patience.”
While Trump was unable to win most of the cases he has filed in state courts, there was a notable victory where a court ordered election officials to allow Republican Party observers to be stationed within six feet of the counting tables to watch the process.
Officials there had stationed them far away citing danger from the coronavirus and the observers complained that they could not clearly see the ballots.
While the case was being filed at the Supreme Court, Biden’s supporters in anticipation of a victory were celebrating in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which focus of the counting controversies.