Court considers blocking Arizona ballot-collection law
Updated 6:40 pm, Wednesday, October 19, 2016
PHOENIX (AP) — A federal appeals court panel on Wednesday was urged by an attorney for Democratic voters and groups to override a judge in Phoenix and block a new Arizona law making it a felony to collect early ballots from voters.
The lawyer representing state and national Democratic groups and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged the three-judge panel to block the law before the Nov. 8 election.
Bruce Spiva argued it will disproportionately affect Native American and Latino voters' ability to participate in November's election and violates the Voting Rights Act. He said U.S. District Court Judge Douglas L. Rayes used the wrong legal standard is assessing the law's impact.
Both parties have used ballot collection to boost turnout during elections by going door-to-door and asking voters if they have completed their mail-in ballots. Voters who have not are urged to do so, and the volunteers offer to take the ballots to elections offices.
Democrats have used the method aggressively in minority communities and argue their success prompted the new GOP-sponsored law.
"This law might disenfranchise thousands of people on the one hand and on the other hand not one single instance of fraud has been found," Spiva told the three- judge panel. "And the Legislature rejected more narrowly tailored fixes that would have actually spoken to potential fraud.
He added: "This is really not about fraud, it's about eliminating a method of voting that's used by Native Americans, Latinos and people on the margins of society."
The law was enacted by the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature early this year and signed by GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, who called it a common-sense effort to protect the integrity of elections and eliminate voter fraud.
Assistant Arizona Attorney General Karen Hartman-Tellez said Rayes was correct in refusing to block the law. She urged the three-judge panel to let that decision stand, noting that evidence submitted by the Democratic groups didn't show anyone would be blocked from voting because of the law.
"The evidence is about availability of mail service, about absence of transportation, but there isn't a single declaration or anything from a person who says I'm going to not be able to vote now that this law is in effect or that it will be much more difficult for me to vote," Hartman-Tellez said.
Spiva argued that Rayes erred when he ruled that there was no statistical evidence that showed Indian and Latino voters might be impacted more than white voters. Instead, Spiva said he should have looked at the totality of the evidence.
Chief Appeals Court Judge Sidney Thomas honed in on that argument while questioning Hartman-Telez.
"The statute says totality of the circumstances, the Supreme Court says totality of the circumstances, our circuit has said totality of the circumstances, and the district court says no, just statistical evidence," Thomas asked Hartman-Telez. "Why isn't that legal error"?
"You have to be able to show that the burden falls more heavily on minority voters than it does on white voters," Hartman-Telez said. "The evidence there doesn't show that it's all minorities."
An attorney representing the Arizona Republican Party told the judges that 56 percent of the states have laws regulating who can collect and return early ballots.
"It's in the state's interest to have that chain of custody information and that's one of the reasons they have implemented this sensible election regulation," GOP attorney Sara Agne said.
The court did not indicate when it would rule.