TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – Restrictions on Arizona voting purportedly aimed at reducing voter fraud do not impose an undue burden on minorities and were not intended to, a federal judge ruled Tuesday in a 2016 lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee and Arizona Democratic Party.
The lawsuit challenged two aspects of Arizona election laws and rules – one concerning in-person voting, and one regulating mail-in ballots – as unconstitutional. The state does not count provisional ballots cast in the wrong precincts, even if the votes that aren’t precinct-specific, such as votes for president or a statewide office, and only voters can possess their own un-voted ballot.
“Plaintiffs have not carried their burden to show that the challenged election practices severely and unjustifiably burden voting and associational rights, disparately impact minority voters,” U.S. District Judge Douglas L. Rayes ruled, noting that the plaintiffs failed to show how many people are affected.
The ballot possession law prevents the formerly widespread practice of non-profit advocates delivering votes en masse for Arizona voters, many of them low income minorities, though it makes exceptions for roommates, family members or caregivers. That leaves a broad opening that limits the impact of the restrictions, Rayes said.
“Thus, the burden (the law) imposes is the burden of traveling to a mail box, post office, early ballot drop box, any polling place or vote center (without waiting in line), or an authorized election official’s office, either personally or with the assistance of a statutorily authorized proxy, during a 27-day early voting period,” he wrote in the ruling, noting that no one testified during the trial that the restrictions make it significantly more difficult to vote.
Michael Tyler, a spokesman for the DNC, decried the ruling in a statement.
“Our democracy is founded on the principle that every voter and every vote counts. But as this court recognized, HB2023 imposes more severe burdens on voters from Arizona’s minority communities,” he wrote. “Voter suppression efforts like this are a Republican staple. The DNC will appeal this ruling immediately so that Arizona voters can have protections in place for the upcoming 2018 elections.”
An attorney representing Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Secretary of State Michele Reagan in the lawsuit and Brnovich’s spokesman did not return an email requesting comment.
The plaintiffs had argued that the laws disproportionately affect minorities, because they often have trouble getting to polling places and often rely on friends or representatives from non-profits to deliver ballots. Voting rights advocates have traditionally delivered ballots en masse for people who can’t make it to the polls on election days.
The 10-day bench trial last year included testimony from dozens of witnesses including academics, current and former government officials, individual voters and representatives from non-profit advocacy groups. The lawsuit was filed in the wake of the closing of dozens of voting sites in Arizona during the primary election in 2016, which left some voters standing in line for hours because they couldn’t vote elsewhere.
Though the plaintiffs showed that the effects of racism linger in Arizona, notably in the lagging socio-economic status of minorities, Rayes ruled that they did not show that the voting laws reflect overt racism.
“Though some individual legislators and proponents of limitations on ballot collection harbored partisan motives—perhaps implicitly informed by racial biases about the propensity of GOTV volunteers in minority communities to engage in nefarious activities—the legislature as a whole enacted H.B. 2023 in spite of opponents’ concerns about its potential effect on GOTV efforts in minority communities, not because of that effect,” Rayes wrote.