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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Arizona Dems Lose Bid for Provisional Ballots

PHOENIX (CN) — A federal judge has rejected the Democratic National Committee's request for an injunction requiring Arizona to accept provisional ballots filed at precincts outside a voter's home area.

The April lawsuit against Arizona was filed by several Democratic voters and democratic groups, later joined by Hillary for America and Bernie 2016 Inc.

Lead plaintiff Leslie Feldman's complaint zeroed in on Maricopa County, Arizona's most populous, home of Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale. Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, the lead defendant, had slashed 70 percent of the county's polling places between 2012 and this year, calling it cost saving. As a result, Maricopa County had only 60 polling places for the primary: one for each 21,000 voters.

This "resulted in severe, inexcusable burdens on voters countywide, as well as the ultimate disenfranchisement of untold numbers of voters who were unable or unwilling to wait in intolerably long lines to cast their ballot for their preferred presidential candidate," the complaint said.

Long lines resulted, and thousands voters were still waiting to cast their ballots after the polls closed at 7 p.m. At the Salvation Army polling location in downtown Phoenix, hundreds of people were still in line more than four hours after the polls closed, and votes in at least 20 other polling places were still being cast at 10 p.m., the plaintiffs said.

Since the 1970s, Arizona has required voters to cast ballots in their assigned precinct, a system designed to ensure that each voter receives a ballot reflecting only the races for which he or she is entitled to vote. If a voter arrives at a precinct but does not appear on the precinct register, Arizona allows the voter to cast a provisional ballot.

In 2011, Arizona began allowing counties to use vote centers, which are equipped to print a specific ballot for each voter based on his or her address. In this system, people can cast a ballot at any center, because they're assured of being given the appropriate ballot.

But with some counties using vote centers and others using a precinct-based system, the Democratic National Committee says, "because the state does not permit votes that are cast out of precinct to be counted in traditional precinct-based systems, voters who happen to live in these counties face an arbitrary yet substantial risk of disenfranchisement unequal to similarly situated voters who live in jurisdictions that have chosen to use a vote center system." The DNC says that voters most likely to file provisional, out-of-precinct ballots are minorities and the poor.

But on Monday, with 27 days remaining before the general election, U.S. District Judge Douglas Rayes found that the DNC did not adequately link the vote center vs. precinct system to lack of opportunities for minorities to cast votes, and that since data cited in the complaint had been available since 2008, the delay in filing argued against urgency for an injunction.

Arizona State Election Director Eric Spencer said he hopes the ruling will encourage the DNC and others to approach the issue through the Legislature, rather than the courts.

"I think the more effective approach, is to work this through the legislative process, and if they could work through the stakeholders, mostly the county, and find a new process, that's the more rational way to go," Spencer told Courthouse News.

He added: "I've been state election director for two years now, and I've never had a single person request a meeting with me about this issue.

"The important thing here is everybody wants more votes to count."

The Arizona Democratic Party, a plaintiff, did not return phone messages requesting comment.

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