An ideologically divided Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Arizona’s elections laws, which the Democratic National Committee attempted to strike down, arguing they were discriminatory against minority voters.
The 6-3 ruling bolstered a state’s right to implement its own election requirements in what conservatives labeled as a major win for election integrity efforts.
“Arizona law generally makes it very easy to vote. All voters may vote by mail or in person for nearly a month before Election Day,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the court.
The court‘s other five conservative justices joined him in the decision.
In Arizona, all voters can cast early ballots by mail up to 27 days before Election Day and don’t need a reason.
The DNC aimed to eliminate Arizona’s requirement that voters who cast ballots in person on Election Day do so at assigned precincts.
Another regulation that was challenged bans anyone other than a caregiver, family member, mail carrier or elections official from returning the ballots of another voter.
Justice Alito said there is a legitimate state interest in preventing fraud during an election.
“Fraud can affect the outcome of a close election, and fraudulent votes dilute the right of citizens to cast ballots that carry appropriate weight,” he wrote. “Fraud can also undermine public confidence in the fairness of elections and the perceived legitimacy of the announced outcome. Ensuring that every vote is cast freely, without intimidation or undue influence, is also a valid and important state interest.”
The three Democratic-appointed justices disagreed.
Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama appointee, wrote a dissent saying the majority of the justices ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act in upholding Arizona’s law.
“What is tragic is that the court has damaged a statute designed to bring about ‘the end of discrimination in voting,” she wrote.
Justices Stephen G. Breyer, a Clinton appointee, and Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama appointee, joined her dissent.
The DNC’s lawsuit, filed in 2016, aimed to ease Arizona’s laws on ballot harvesting and other election conduct such as assigned precinct voting.
A U.S. District Court ruled for Arizona, finding that the state’s regulations were not aimed at suppressing minority voters.
The DNC argued that the laws disenfranchised Hispanic, Black and American Indian voters, who had to wait in long lines at assigned precincts and may not have transportation to get to their polling locations.
The federal court decision against the DNC noted that about 99% of the minority voters cast ballots in the correct precincts.
The full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court. It ruled that the state enacted laws with discriminatory intent and that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is violated when “more than a de minimis number of minority voters … are disparately affected.”
“De minimis” refers to a number too trivial to merit consideration.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, took the case to the justices.
He said the ruling in Brnovich v Democratic National Committee is a win for election integrity in Arizona and across the country.
“Fair elections are the cornerstone of our republic, and they start with rational laws that protect both the right to vote and the accuracy of the results,” Mr. Brnovich said.
DNC Chair Jaime Harrison said one of Arizona’s laws rejects minority votes by a 2-1 ratio and the other hurts American Indians who aren’t able to use an effective ballot collection process.
“We’re disappointed in the court’s ruling today, but we will continue to work to make sure every voter’s vote is counted and protected. This ruling is exactly why we urgently need to take action at the state and federal levels to protect voters from Republicans’ unprecedented efforts to undermine the right to vote,” he said.
Liberal activists said the high court’s decision will make it more difficult for people to vote.
Sean Morales-Doyle, director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program, said it will be more difficult for people to challenge election laws in court.
“The justices stopped short of eviscerating the Voting Rights Act, but nevertheless did significant damage to this vital civil rights law and to the freedom to vote. Congress must act now to strengthen voting rights by passing the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” he said.
Conservatives, meanwhile, said the decision upholds states’ rights.
Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project, said the ruling will ensure secure elections.
“The Supreme Court recognized the crucial need to protect the credibility and integrity of our election system. In doing so, the court ruled in favor of laws so routine and commonplace,” he said. “Critics who attack this ruling are defending a campaign tactic that has been abused to disenfranchise voters.”
Election law has become ground zero in the battle between the two major political parties, fueled by disputes over the 2020 presidential election.
Democrats want expanded mail-in voting and resist updating registration lists. They say more voting is more democratic.
Republicans want more measures to ensure election integrity, such as voter ID laws. They argue that lax security raises fraud concerns and undermines citizens’ faith in the democratic process.
The Democratic Party’s challenge of Arizona’s voting regulations represents one of the latest moves by liberal advocacy groups to get rid of state election laws.
House Democrats have been championing legislation for an elections overhaul, known as H.R. 1, or the For the People Act, which would expand voting rights and impose limits on campaign financing.
They also have been pushing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The legislation aims to impose some requirements from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the high court struck down in 2013. It included mandates that certain states and jurisdictions, mostly in the South, get pre-clearance from the federal government before changing any election policies to avoid discrimination against minority voters.
The Senate, under Republican control, never took up the measures. Now that Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, controls the chamber, he has moved forward with the For the People Act, but Republicans blocked it in a key procedural vote last month.
It would take 60 senators in the upper chamber to pass the legislation, and Democrats hold only 50 seats.