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Will Arizona election law change voting rights in the US?

Posted at 5:20 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 19:20:43-05

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case involving two Arizona voting laws. The ultimate decision may impact how courts decide election law disputes in other states.

The court will decide if disqualifying a ballot of someone who votes in the wrong precinct or making it illegal to ballot harvest is unconstitutional. Ballot harvesting is when a person collects ballots that are not from family members or roommates and either mails them or returns them to a county recorder to be counted.

The justices will consider whether the restrictions are sensible or pose an undue burden on voters.

“If you just can’t vote for those reasons and your vote is not being counted, you’ve been denied the right to vote haven’t you?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said during her questioning of Arizona Republican Party attorney Michael Carvin. Carvin said the laws were race-neutral and impose ordinary burdens on voting and were not subject to challenges under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The laws were enacted in 2016. A federal district court upheld them but the 9th Circuit ruled they violated the Voting Rights Act because they adversely affected Hispanic, African American and Native American voters. The decision was 7-4.

In his majority opinion, Judge William Fletcher said those voters were twice as likely to vote at the wrong polling location.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who did not want to appeal the 9th Circuit ruling said people of color and Native Americans are disproportionately affected by not being able to rely on ballot collectors.

“Having the ability to have your neighbor take your ballot to the post office to mail was greatly helpful to these communities,” Hobbs said.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich was among those making the case that the justices should uphold Arizona’s voting laws. Brnovich says they do no place a substantial burden on voters as evidenced by the 2020 presidential election with a record turnout where 80% of the vote was done by mail.

Brnovich said less than one-tenth of one percent of the vote was thrown out.

“We basically argued that’s a diminutive amount. It’s not substantial and therefore the court shouldn’t strike down state laws unless you can show discriminatory intent or a significant impact on minorities to vote,” Brnovich said.

For voting rights advocates, no number is too small. So there is concern the Supreme Court may look at those left out in Arizona as inconvenient, not restrictive.

“We should be more inclusive rather than less inclusive,” said Alex Gulotta of All Voting is Local said, “but that’s what it came down to today. How much more discrimination will we tolerate? How much discrimination will the courts allow us to tolerate.”

The Supreme Court gave no indication when it will decide the matter.