Democrats sue Arizona for not extending voter registration

Posted at 12:52 PM, Oct 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-20 23:44:50-04

The Arizona Democratic Party has sued Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan for refusing to extend the state's voter registration deadline by a day even though it fell on a state and federal holiday.

The lawsuit filed in federal court seeks an order requiring Reagan to place anyone who filed an otherwise valid registration by Oct. 11 on the voter rolls for November's election.

" ... A substantial number of voters are at immediate risk of unlawful and unnecessary disenfranchisement in the November 8 Election," the lawsuit says. "These voters should not be turned away at the polls, but instead allowed to exercise their fundamental right to vote."

Reagan refused to move the Oct. 10 deadline even though there was no mail service and state Motor Vehicle Division offices, where residents can register to vote, were closed because of Columbus Day, despite calls by Democratic groups for her to do so. The state party, joined by the Democratic National Committee, noted that more than 40 percent of voters register in-person or by mail, and many could not register in person after Oct. 7 or by mail after Oct. 8.

They allege that Reagan's action violated the National Voter Registration Act, the 1st and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Arizona law.

Reagan's spokesman, Matt Roberts, noted Thursday that 14 of 15 country recorder's offices and the Secretary of State's main office in Phoenix remained open on Oct. 10, despite the holiday. Mohave County was closed, but that county decided on its own to extend the deadline.

"Plus, thousands of people found a way to register online throughout the day," Roberts said in a statement. "Our office is uncomfortable with unilaterally moving deadlines that exist in state law."

Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett moved the registration cutoff by one day in 2012, but Roberts said previously that Reagan doesn't believe it's legal to do so. Moving the date also shortens the time recorders have to process registration forms and how long voters have early ballots.

"Neither approach is acceptable in our view," he added. "That said, we will be asking the legislature to change the law next year so we don't have this problem again."

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich's office refused to weigh in, saying in a Sept. 28 letter to Democratic state Rep. Eric Meyer that conflicting statutes and court decisions allowed Reagan to user her discretion on whether to extend the deadline.

Arizona was one of 10 states that initially refused to move their deadline forward by a day, but several agreed to changes. Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, like Reagan a Republican, extended the deadline after determining that not doing so would conflict with federal requirements.