Judge Lets Arizona’s Out-of-Date Voter Process Slide

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – Arizona Secretary of State Michelle Reagan will not have to change her office’s voter registration process – which three nonprofits claimed in a lawsuit last month is illegal – before the November election, according to a federal judge’s ruling.

The National Voter Registration Act requires states to update voter registrations based on motor vehicle and drivers license records, but Arizona doesn’t. So last month the League of Women Voters, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, and Promise Arizona sued Reagan.

The nonprofits also asked the court to order Reagan to notify voters who had changed their motor vehicle addresses that their voter registrations had not been updated, to count ballots submitted by voters in the wrong precincts, and to post notices at polling places that voters should update their addresses to ensure their ballots are counted.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge James A. Teilborg rejected the requests, citing the cost of changes, potential confusion among voters, and even the potential for undetected multiple votes.

“Plaintiffs fail to establish that anyone will be disenfranchised if the court does not provide preliminary relief,” Teilborg wrote in a 19-page ruling. “Conversely, defendant will incur great expense to carry out plaintiffs’ requested preliminary relief of posting notices at all polling locations, re-training poll workers to count (out of precinct) ballots in contravention with longstanding state policy, and sending hundreds of thousands of mailers that would likely confuse voters.”

The plaintiffs could not identify any specific voters who had moved, not updated voter registrations, and then found themselves rejected if they attempted to vote outside their precincts, the judge noted.

“The court finds that plaintiffs only offer ‘mere speculation’ that eligible voters will attempt to vote (out of precinct) and become disenfranchised as a result of NVRA violations, because plaintiffs offer no evidence as to the cause of (out of precinct) ballots and the effects, if any, of the alleged NVRA violation,” he wrote.

At a Sept. 12 hearing concerning the injunction request, Reagan said 488,100 people had updated their drivers license addresses since November 2016. Of those, 384,000 were registered voters whom the plaintiffs were asking the state to notify. Teilborg rejected that prospect as costly and potentially confusing.

“Secretary Reagan is pleased the court agreed with her position that sending out 384,000 postcards to let voters know we unilaterally changed their address right before an election would do more harm than good,” Reagan spokesman Matt Roberts said in a statement, adding that many of the plaintiff’s requested reliefs are already scheduled for change next year.

The nonprofits also asked the court to order the state to count out-of-precinct ballots until the issues are resolved, which the court observed could lead to the possibility of undetectable double votes – one in the new precinct, and one in the old precinct.

“Even if defendant wanted to modify the procedures for the upcoming election, any modification of the Arizona Election Procedures Manual requires consultation with each county board of supervisors and approval by the governor and the attorney general not fewer than ninety days before each election. The 90-day deadline to submit modifications for the November 6, 2018 election passed before Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on August 18, 2018,” Teilborg’s ruling says.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and democracy advocacy group Demos represent the plaintiffs. The ACLU of Arizona and an attorney for Demos did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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