Ariz. Voter-Registration Forms OK’d by 9th

     TUCSON (CN) – A voter registration form that requires Arizona voters to write in the names of smaller political parties imposes, at most, a “de minimus burden” on voters, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.
     The state’s Libertarian and Green Parties challenged a form enacted by the state Legislature in 2011 which features the names of the Republican and Democrat Parties with a checkbox next to them, while the three other parties with ongoing ballot access in Arizona – the Libertarian Party, the Green Party and Americans Elect – are not listed by name.
     Those who wish to register with one of those parties must write in the name or check a box marked “other.”
     The parties and three of their members sued Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, alleging that the form violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights. A federal judge shot down the parties’ equal-protection challenge to the forms.
     A panel of the 9th Circuit heard the appeal earlier this year during a special sitting at the University of Arizona.
     On Friday, Circuit Judge Wallace Tashima said that the parties “failed to make any such showing” that the form seriously restricts their availability of political opportunity.
     He also dismissed claims that the form encourages voters to register with the two major parties over all the others, saying the parties had “failed to adduce any evidence” including how many new voters actually use the form to register over alternative registration means.
     “Without some assessment of how many voters actually use the Registration Form, we cannot even begin to gauge the impact it may have had on party registration rolls,” Tashima wrote in the 25-page opinion.
     Nor does the form send a message that there are only two “real” political parties in the state of Arizona, he added.
     “Plaintiffs have failed to introduce even an iota of evidence in support of this assertion,” he said. “The alleged psychological effects that the registration form has on registering voters are sheer speculation.”
     Tashima also supported Arizona’s assertion that the form was cost-efficient and less prone to clerical error. He said that since smaller parties lose their recognition status more frequently than major parties do, the form saves the state from having to change and reprint the form every time a party loses or gains ballot access.
     In a separate concurrence, Judge Margaret McKeown wrote that the form indeed “passes constitutional muster” but the panel’s majority opinion is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s approach to analyzing voting rights challenges, since “any effort to apply the balancing standard to this case is hamstrung by a lack of evidence.”
     “It is remarkable that both parties rely principally on generalizations, i.e. a claimed burden, or platitudes, i.e. efficiency, rather than evidence,” she said.
     David Hardy, who represents the plaintiffs, said in a telephone interview that the circuit’s opinion came as a surprise to him.
     He said that although writing in does not impose a huge burden from the standpoint of the individual voter, it does from the standpoint of the parties.
     “Imagine if you had a situation where only one party was listed and all the other parties were listed as ‘other,'” he said. “If you auctioned off that one-party spot, you could make a good amount of money.”
     Hardy also said that the case, at its core, is about “whether the two major parties can safely seek to destroy the smaller parties.”
     Arizona officials could not be reached for comment.
     Hardy’s office is in Tucson.

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