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Columbus Day holiday won’t provide voters extra time to register

 

USA election

The attorney general’s office will not order Secretary of State Michele Reagan to tell counties to give voters an extra day to register to vote despite the deadline this year falling on a holiday.

In a letter to House Minority Leader Eric Meyer, Assistant Attorney General Dominic Draye acknowledged that when the date for performing certain functions falls on a holiday, state law allows that to be moved to the following day.

In this case, the deadline to register for the Nov. 8 election is Monday, Oct. 10. That, however, is the day Arizona celebrates Columbus Day and all state offices are closed.

But Draye said there also is a 1968 Arizona Supreme Court ruling which says that election statutes have to be interpreted literally “even where a strict interpretation led to a Sunday deadline for ballot delivery.”

He acknowledged that conflict between state statute and the 1968 ruling means there are “colorable arguments” for either an Oct. 10 or Oct. 11 deadline.

But Draye also said that “lack of clarity in the law leaves room for the exercise of discretion on the part of the secretary of state.” And he said if someone decides to sue “we will support and defend the secretary of state in her policy decision.”

Draye’s letter is likely to be the last word, at least for the time being. Meyer told Capitol Media Services he has no intention to sue.

“Right now I’m focusing on my election and registering voters before the 10th,” he said. But Meyer said he’s still miffed at Reagan.

“She has chosen to potentially reduce voter participation when you would think it would be her job to encourage as many voters to participate in the electoral process as possible, particularly in a presidential election that’s coming up,” he said. And Meyer said the recent 27-vote victory by Andy Biggs over Christine Jones in the Republican primary for Congressional District 5 shows the importance of just a few votes.

But Reagan spokesman Matt Roberts said his boss decided the Oct. 10 deadline is the legal one after earlier consultations with the attorney general’s office.

Spencer Scharff, the voter protection director for the Arizona Democratic Party countered that decision — and the refusal of the attorney general’s office to issue a formal ruling on Meyer’s request — ignores a formal opinion issued by Robert Morrison in 1958 when he was attorney general. Morrison concluded that Arizona law specifically allows for registering voters the day after a holiday “with effect as though performed on the appointed day.”

Roberts also said that while Oct. 10 is a state holiday, all but one county will be open that day. That is because lawmakers allowed counties to trade that day to instead give workers off the day after Thanksgiving.

Scharff, however, pointed out that Mohave County, which is observing Columbus Day, has decided it’s perfectly legal to extend the deadline into Tuesday despite Reagan’s advice.

Even with other county offices open, Meyer said that’s not an answer. He said most people who wait until the last minute to vote will just presume that all government offices are closed.

Still, Meyer conceded there are other options unaffected by the holiday.

The main one is the ability of Arizonans who already have a driver’s license or state-issued identification card to register to vote online through a web site maintained by the state Motor Vehicle Division. Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said that is where the vast majority of voters register.

Meyer said, though, that doesn’t help those who register by mail: The law requires those requests to be postmarked by the Oct. 10 deadline but the post office is closed that day.

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