- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Lawyers representing state and national Democratic groups opposed to a new Arizona law outlawing collection of early ballots by get-out-the-vote groups urged a federal judge Wednesday to block it from going into effect.

U.S. District Court Judge Douglas L. Rayes heard nearly two hours of arguments Wednesday for and against the Democrats’ request for an injunction blocking the law from taking effect. He said he’ll rule later on the request.

The law makes it a felony to return someone else’s ballot to election officials in most cases. Republicans pushed House Bill 2023 through the Legislature earlier this year, arguing that so-called “ballot harvesting” can lead to election fraud. Gov. Doug Ducey signed it into law in early March, saying it will ensure a chain of custody between the voter and the ballot box.

“We join 18 other states in this common sense approach to maintaining the integrity of our elections,” Ducey said in a statement.

Attorneys for the state argue the new law ensures the integrity of elections and calls it a reasonable step to prevent voting fraud. The state Republican Party has joined the defense.

The lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, state Democratic Party and numerous voters alleges the law violates the Voting Rights Act.

They say in their request to block the law that it “severely burdens the rights to vote and to associate; burdens minority voters disproportionately for reasons linked to the ongoing effects of Arizona’s lengthy history of discrimination; does not further any legitimate state interest; and was enacted for the purpose of suppressing turnout among Democratic voters.”

Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Secretary of State Michele Reagan say that’s not the case.

“Plaintiffs have not shown the discriminatory impact or severe burden necessary to succeed on their claims, relying on speculation rather than demonstrable harm,” they wrote in court filings. “And plaintiffs ignore Arizona’s compelling interest in ensuring the integrity of elections and refuse to acknowledge the reasonable steps taken in HB2023 to ensure the integrity of the early voting process_a process that has played an ever-increasing role in Arizona’s elections.”

Both parties use ballot collection to boost turnout during elections by going door-to-door and asking voters if they have completed their mail-in ballot. If they have not, they urge them to do so and offer to return it to elections offices.

Democrats have used the method aggressively in minority communities and argue their success prompted the new GOP-sponsored law.

Regardless of the new law, the top election official in the state’s largest county said this week she has no plans to try to enforce the law.

“If somebody brings in ballots, there’s box there for them to put the ballots in,” Maricopa County recorder Helen Purcell said. “We’re going to process that ballot just like we process any ballot.

“We are not the police,” she said.

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