Supreme Court Reinstates Voting Restriction Law In Key Swing State

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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The Supreme Court reinstated an Arizona law Saturday banning so-called “ballot harvesting,” dealing a blow to Democratic groups just days before the presidential election.

Ballot harvesting refers to an absentee voting practice, legal in some states, in which absentee ballots can be collected and turned into authorities by a third party. Arizona outlawed the practice this year. The ban was challenged by Democratic groups in the state, who claim it placed an unlawful burden on the right to vote, particularly for minority groups.

The en banc 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law in a 6-5 vote Friday. Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan filed an emergency appeal at the Supreme Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who hears emergency petitions arising from the 9th Circuit, referred the case to the full Court. Reagan’s application for a stay was granted, meaning the law will remain in place for the November election. The order did not disclose how the justices voted, which is not unusual in these circumstances. (RELATED: Obama Is Granting Commutations Left And Right On His Way Out)

In cases such as these, courts generally apply the Purcell principle, which dictates that courts should not interfere with election rules in the period immediately prior to the election. In the weeks before the 2014 federal elections, the Supreme Court applied this principle in challenges arising from Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Texas.

Writing at the Election Law Blog, UC Irvine School of Law professor Rick Hasen explained the case was a difficult one:

I confess I find this to be a difficult case. On the one hand, the state does have an interest in preventing voter fraud, and when fraud does happen (including in parts of Arizona) it has been with absentee ballots and vote buying. Discouraging ballot harvesters can deal with that risk of vote buying…On the other hand, there is some evidence that the great distances in Arizona means that some voters, especially Native Americans, may be burdened by the lack of third parties available to collect ballots. 

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