Republicans and Democrats are going to keep their preferred — and exclusive — spots on Arizona voter registration forms.
Without comment, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to disturb lower court rulings which upheld a 2011 Arizona law that only the two parties with the highest number of adherents get to be listed on the forms. The justices rebuffed contentions of the Arizona Libertarian Party that the practice is both unfair and illegal.
Monday’s ruling is a victory for Republicans who approved the law in what GOP lawmakers admitted was a bid to slow the tide of people not registering with their party. It also exhausts all avenues of appeal for the Libertarians.
Until 2011, those registering to vote were given a blank line to insert their preferred party choice.
Former state Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, who sponsored the legislation, said the result was that many people were leaving the space blank. The result is they got registered as independent, unaffiliated with any party at all.
But Antenori contended that some people probably wanted to list themselves with a party but just forgot.
With space on the registration form limited, Antenori said it was impossible to list all four parties recognized by the state at that time. So the decision was made to list just the two parties with the largest registration.
And those wanting a different affiliation have to fill in that party’s name on a line that’s less than an inch long.
Attorney David Hardy charged that was not fair.
He said those who might want to register with the Green or Libertarian parties might look at the revised form and conclude they “must not be real political parties or do not have ballot access, and thus there is no purpose to registering in them.”
More to the point, Hardy said the number of registrants is important: Arizona law links continued representation on the ballot to number of adherents as well as votes cast in the last election.
But Judge Wallace Tashima, writing for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Hardy failed to convince the court that the new law actually is a substantial burden to Libertarians. It was that ruling that the Supreme Court upheld on Monday.
“Plaintiffs failed to adduce any evidence — statistical, anecdotal or otherwise — that the registration form has, in fact, encouraged voters to register for the major parties over minor ones,” Tashima wrote. Nor was the court swayed by arguments that listing Republicans and Democrats alone would suggest that they are the only “real parties.”
“The alleged psychological effects that the registration form has on registering voters is sheer speculation,” Tashima wrote.
Conversely, the judge said giving preferential treatment to the parties with the overwhelming number of registrants “reduces the potential that an election official will incorrectly register a voter who wishes to affiliate with one of the state’s two most prominent parties.”