(TNS) The U.S. Supreme Court issued a fresh sign of its divide over voting issues, allowing the counting of disputed mail-in ballots in a local Pennsylvania election.

Over three dissents, the justices left in force a federal appeals court ruling that said the 257 ballots should be counted even though they lacked a required date on the return envelope. The high court order is a setback for David Ritter, a Republican who holds a 71-vote lead over Democrat Zachary Cohen in a 2021 race for a Lehigh County judgeship and is trying to block the processing of additional ballots.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a federal civil rights law required the mail-in ballots be counted because the date requirement was immaterial to the voter’s qualifications. The appeals court said it was undisputed the ballots had arrived on time, and the panel pointed to the election board’s policy of accepting ballots with even a clearly erroneous date.

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented, saying the 3rd Circuit ruling “is very likely incorrect.” Alito, who handles emergency matters from the 3rd Circuit, had previously put the ruling on temporary hold while the high court considered ordering a longer halt.

The case is Ritter v. Migliori, 21A772.