9th Circuit Endorses |Arizona Ballot Form

     PHOENIX (CN) – Arizona may continue to use a ballot registration form that lists only the two largest political parties in the state, the Ninth Circuit ruled Friday.
     The Arizona Libertarian and Green parties, and three of their members, sued then-Secretary of State Ken Bennett in 2011 after the state legislature decided that only the two largest political parties would be listed by name on voter registration forms.
     The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in Tucson Federal Court claimed the statute discriminated against Green and Libertarian voters, who now had to write out their party affiliation in a small box, forcing them to “abbreviate, and run the risk that their abbreviation is illegible or misread.”
     U.S. District Judge Cindy Jorgenson ruled in favor for the state in 2013.
     “[P]arties in Arizona that are not the two largest political parties that are entitled to continued representation on the ballot are not placed in a situation where they cannot determine from the mass of unaffiliated persons who were actually supporters of their organizations,” Jorgenson wrote.
     The parties appealed to the Ninth Circuit, who agreed with Jorgenson.
     The statute “does not directly inhibit the ability of any party to gain access to the ballot, nor does it articulate different criteria for major and minor parties who seek to get their candidates on the ballot,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima on behalf of a three-judge panel. “All new political parties (and parties that have lost continuing ballot access) are required to comply with the same criteria to get their candidate on the ballot.”
     The parties argued that the registration forms encouraged voters to register as Republican or Democrat because those parties are preferred. Tashima found there was no evidence to support this argument.
     “[E]ven if we were to assume that a significant number of voters used the registration form, plaintiffs failed to adduce any evidence – statistical, anecdotal, or otherwise – that the registration form has, in fact, encouraged voters to register for the major parties over minor ones,” Tashima wrote.
     The panel agreed with the state’s argument that it has a Legislative interest in creating a cost-effective registration form.
     “[S]maller political parties lose their status as recognized political parties under Arizona law much more frequently than the major parties do,” Tashima wrote. “If Arizona was required to provide checkboxes for all political parties entitled to continuing ballot access, as plaintiffs suggest, the state would be required to change, and reprint, the registration form each time a party lost, or gained, continuing ballot access.”
     U.S. Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown agreed with the panel’s decision that Arizona’s voter registration form is constitutional. She wrote separately from the panel because she believed the burden-shifting standards applied by the panel are inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s approach to analyzing voting rights challenges.
     “[T]he voter registration form is constitutional because, even on the thin record we have before us, the state’s asserted interests in reducing printing costs and easing administrative efficiency are ‘sufficiently weighty to justify’ the speculative burden on the plaintiffs’ rights,” McKeown found.
     The parties’ attorney, David Hardy, was not immediately available for comment. The Secretary of State’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

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