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Here’s why a Supreme Court ruling might have delivered a fatal blow to key election conspiracy theory

Al Drago
Getty Images
A recent ruling by the U.S Supreme Court took away one of the most common arguments used by conspiracy theorists who claim the 2020 election was fraudulent.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that state legislatures lack unilateral authority over federal elections – which includes election laws, congressional districts, and federal election certifications.

If adopted, the independent state legislature theory would have stripped away all authority from Departments of State, governors, and state courts nationwide – all of whom contribute to how states run congressional and presidential elections.

The theory has previously been used to justify partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina, attempts to dissolve a bipartisan election agency in Wisconsin, and efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Pennsylvania.

The court’s decision in Moore v. Harper took away one of the most common arguments used by conspiracy theorists who claim the 2020 election was fraudulent, including former Trump lawyer John Eastman.

Dickinson College president John Jones, a former federal judge, sees the ruling as a victory for every state’s election security.

“Those who want to be disruptive of the 2024 election will find novel and different ways to try to question the legitimacy of the election,” he said. “This one very major potential tool in the disruptor’s toolbox now ceases to exist.”

Jones said the Supreme Court is likely well-aware of how Trump supporters attempted to use it in the context of the 2020 election, calling the theory “a solution seeking a problem.”

“It assumes that there was systemic fraud, and there were 60-plus court cases, and in not one of those court cases, all of which broke against President Trump, in not one of them was there a finding of fraud in the election,” he said. “[SCOTUS] knew that if they didn’t knock this down and deal with it once and for all, that you could well have a situation where it could be extended in the direction of electors.”

Jones is a member of Keep Our Republic, a non-partisan government watchdog group dedicated to maintaining the checks and balances system of federal elections.

He said that if the court had ruled differently, it would have allowed state legislatures to reject election results, which he calls “anarchy.”

“Now, you won’t have a legislature in effect, based on thin or non-existent evidence, trying to thwart the will of the popular vote in a particular state.”

How does Pa. run federal elections?

Federal elections in Pa. are overseen by the Bureau of Commissions, Elections, and Legislation – which also handles campaign finance and voter registration.

The Department of State, overseen by Governor Josh Shapiro, keeps records of polling places, district election officers, and registered electors who receive absentee ballots. They ensure that all eligible voters can exercise their right at the designated polling place.

State courts have the authority to protect voting rights by enforcing federal election laws.

Jones argued that the case reaffirms the responsibility of the courts to interpret the Constitution and prevent state legislatures from violating state constitutions.

“We won’t have that now. I think it’s dead,” he said. “The independent state legislature doctrine is probably not worth worrying about at this point, because I don’t think it’s going to rear its head in any near time in our lives.”