- Associated Press - Friday, October 28, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - A federal appeals court panel late Friday refused to block a new Arizona law making it a felony to collect early ballots from voters.

The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means get-out-the vote groups won’t be able to collect ballots from voters and deliver them to the polls. Only family members and caregivers are now allowed to deliver someone else’s ballot.

The state and national Democratic parties and some voters sued to block the Republican-backed law, saying it violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act because it hurt minorities’ ability to vote.

Appeals court Justice Sandra Segal Ikuta and Justice Carlos Bea rejected their effort, agreeing with a lower court that the law wasn’t a significant burden and didn’t disproportionately affect minorities.

Ikuta wrote that a lower court judge didn’t make a clear error when he concluded that limiting one of several ways voters could return early ballots didn’t significantly increase the burdens of voting.

“Further, any burden imposed by H.B. 2023 is mitigated by the availability of alternative means of voting” she wrote.

Chief Appeals Court Judge Sidney Thomas dissented, writing that “Arizona has criminalized one of the most popular and effective methods by which minority voters cast their ballots,” and that violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

The legislation, House Bill 2023, was enacted by the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature early this year and signed by GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, who called it a common-sense effort to protect the integrity of elections and eliminate voter fraud.

Both parties have used ballot collection to boost turnout during elections by going door-to-door and asking voters if they have completed their mail-in ballots. Voters who have not are urged to do so, and the volunteers offer to take the ballots to election offices.

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

During oral arguments last week in San Francisco, a lawyer for the Democrats said it would cost minority voters their right to vote.

“This law might disenfranchise thousands of people on the one hand and on the other hand not one single instance of fraud has been found,” Bruce Spiva told the judges. “And the Legislature rejected more narrowly tailored fixes that would have actually spoken to potential fraud.

He said the law wasn’t really about fraud but about eliminating a method of voting that’s used by Native Americans, Latinos and people on the margins of society.”

Ikuta rejected that argument, saying that even if no actual fraud existed, its possible presence could undermine public confidence in elections.

“At the very least, H.B. 2023 assists in exorcizing the specter of illegitimacy that may hang over the electoral process in the minds of some citizens,” she wrote.

Lawyers for the state and the Arizona Republican Party told the panel that Democrats hadn’t shown evidence that minorities would be unfairly affected and there were plenty of other ways to vote.

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