PHOENIX – A federal judge won’t overturn a law that makes it a felony to bring someone else’s early ballot to a polling place.
In an extensive ruling, Judge Douglas Rayes said there’s scant evidence that the 2016 law will impose a hardship on the vast majority of people who vote. He said while a majority of Arizonans now vote with early ballots, the vast majority manage to get them turned in without the help of outsiders whose activities are now a crime.
Rayes acknowledged that the measure was approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey on the claim that limiting who can handle someone’s ballot will prevent voter fraud. And, in fact, the judge said there has “never been a case of voter fraud associated with ballot collection charged in Arizona.’’
Rayes said none of that makes the law illegal. And he said challengers, led by the Arizona Democratic Party presented no evidence that the law is more likely to affect minorities than any other voter.
In the same 83-page ruling, Rayes also rebuffed a bid by challengers to force counties to count the votes of those who cast their ballots at the wrong polling place. Here, too, the judge said Arizona laws requiring people to vote where they’re assigned or risk having their votes disregarded creates no unconstitutional hardships.
Lawyers for the Arizona Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee already have filed a notice they intend to appeal.
This is actually the second time Rayes has ruled in favor of the state. He had previously rejected a bid by challengers to enjoin the law from taking effect while he considered its legality.
The first part of the lawsuit is aimed at a law which allows judges to impose a presumptive one-year prison term and potential $150,000 fine for the practice by civic and political groups of going out to see if people remembered to return the early ballots they had been sent. If they had not, group members would offer to take them to the polling place themselves.
There are exceptions. The law does not apply to family members, those living in the same household or certain caregivers who provide assistance to voters in various institutions.
Until the 2016 law, both major parties had engaged in various forms of what has been called “ballot harvesting.’’