FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2020, file photo, a postal worker empties a box near the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. U.S. Postal Service…
In this Aug. 18, 2020, file photo, a postal worker empties a box near the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. U.S. Postal Service records show delivery delays have persisted across the country as millions of Americans began voting by mail.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that voters in the U.S. state of Wisconsin need to return their ballots to election officials by the time polls close on November 3 in order to be counted. 

The court sided with Republicans who challenged an earlier decision by a lower court judge to extend the deadline to accept any ballots that were postmarked by November 3 but arrived by November 9. 

Ballot deadlines vary by state, and as legal challenges have played out in recent weeks, the courts have generally supported rules put in place by state legislatures or election officials. 

“No one doubts that conducting a national election amid a pandemic poses serious challenges,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a concurring opinion. “But none of that means individual judges may improvise with their own election rules in place of those the people’s representatives have adopted.”

Signs for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump mark neighboring properties in a middle-class neighborhood of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Sept. 29, 2020.

Republicans in multiple cases have argued there is enough time for voters to return their ballots by November 3, while Democrats argued extensions are necessary with historic numbers of people casting mail-in ballots in order to avoid gathering at polling sites on election day due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Justice Elena Kagan, one of three liberals on the Supreme Court who dissented in the 5-3 decision, wrote that the ruling "will disenfranchise large numbers of responsible voters in the midst of hazardous pandemic conditions." 

The Wisconsin Elections Commission reported Monday that 1.7 million people had requested to vote by absentee ballot, and that 1.34 million had either cast a ballot by mail or voted absentee in person. 

Nationwide, more than 64 million people had either cast mail-in ballots or voted early in person as of Monday night, according to the U.S. Elections Project. 

About 20 of the 50 U.S. states currently allow ballots to come in after Election Day as long as they are postmarked by November 3. 

What Happens Next?

What It Means to Become President-Elect in the US

In the United States, Democrat Joe Biden is being called the president-elect.

President-elect is a descriptive term not an official office. As such, Biden has no power in the government, and he would not until he is inaugurated at noon on January 20, 2021.

American news networks, which track all of the vote counting, determined on November 7 that Biden’s lead had become insurmountable in Pennsylvania, putting him over the 270 electoral votes needed to be president. Within minutes of determining his lead was mathematically assured, they projected him as the winner.

That is why news organizations, including VOA, are calling Biden the "projected winner."

Sometimes, in the case of particularly close elections, when news networks make this call, the other candidate does not concede victory. President Donald Trump has not done so, alleging voter fraud without substantial evidence and vowing to fight on. The president’s position has left Washington lawmakers divided, with Republicans backing a legal inquiry into allegations of vote fraud, even as they celebrate other congressional lawmakers who won their races.

When will the dispute be resolved?

The U.S. election won’t be officially certified for weeks. In the meantime, court challenges and state recounts could occur.

So far, the Trump administration has not provided evidence for any fraud that could overturn the result, but there is still time for more legal challenges.

Once states have certified the vote, pledged electors then cast their votes in the Electoral College in mid-December. Congress then certifies the overall Electoral College result in early January, about two weeks before Inauguration Day.