9th Circuit Tosses Arizona Ballot Rules Finding They Discriminate

January 28, 2020 by Dan McCue

A divided federal appeals court overturned election rules in Arizona Monday on the grounds they discriminate against black, Latino and Native American voters.

In a 7-4 ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an Arizona requirement that ballots cast in the wrong precinct must be discarded and a separate state law that made it a crime for one person to deliver the ballot of another to a voting precinct.

The decision overturned a ruling by a lower court judge who allowed the election rules to stand, and that of a divided three-judge 9th Circuit appeal, which had affirmed that ruling.

Writing for the majority, U.S. Circuit Judge William Fletcher said, “For over a century, Arizona has repeatedly targeted its American Indian, Hispanic, and African American citizens, limiting or eliminating their ability to vote and to participate in the political process.”

These practices violate the federal Voting Rights Act, the majority said.

The lawsuit challenging the state laws was filed by the Democratic National Committee. In court documents, the committee said there was clear evidence that minority voters cast ballots outside their designated precincts at twice the rate of white voters, in part because they are less likely to have transportation and more likely to work multiple jobs.

Similarly, the court majority found that prior to the introduction, in 2016, of a state law making it illegal for a third party to collect and deliver someone else’s valid ballot, a “large and disproportionate” number of minority voters relied on others to deliver their ballots.

It also noted the law was pushed through by Republicans after a “racially charged campaign.”

The minority on the en banc 9th Circuit panel filed two dissents in the case.

In one, U.S. Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain argued that the Arizona legislature was merely trying to protect elections in the state from voter fraud.

“Because no evidence of actual voter fraud is required to justify an anti-fraud prophylactic measure, the majority’s reasoning quickly collapses,” he wrote.

In the second dissent, U.S. Circuit Judge Jay Bybee suggested the majority’s ruling could inadvertently lead to Election Day chaos because it allows voters to cast their ballot wherever it is most convenient to them.

Attorneys for the state could not immediately be reached for comment. Arizona does have the right to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, in a joint statement, DNC Chair Tom Perez and DSCC executive director Scott Fairchild said the ruling was “a victory for the people of Arizona and our democracy.”

“The court’s ruling will restore out-of-precinct voting and ballot collection for the 2020 election after finding that this Republican voter suppression effort was a discriminatory attack on voters of color, including Native American, Latinx, and African-American communities,” they said.  As Democrats, our goal is to engage every eligible American voter as an active participant in our democracy by making it easier for people to vote, not harder.” 

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