The Trump re-election committee is making a last-ditch effort to keep a new deadline for people to sign their mail-in ballots from taking effect this year.
In new legal filings Wednesday, attorneys for the Donald J. Trump for President organization are asking U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes to stay the order he granted last week giving people who forgot to sign their ballots up to five days after the election to “cure” the problem and guarantee their votes will be counted. They contend Rayes’ ruling was legally incorrect.
More to the point, they want it reviewed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But there is virtually no way for the appellate judges to fully consider the issue before the Nov. 3 general election, which is why they want Rayes to put his order on the shelf, at least for the time being.
It’s not just the president’s allies who want to stop the change. The same attorneys also represent the Arizona Republican Party and the Republican National Committee.
But Democrat Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who technically was the one sued, is making no such request. In fact, Hobbs took no position in the complaint by the Arizona Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee who charged that voters were being illegally disenfranchised.
Separately Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow rebuffed efforts by the Trump re-election committee and other GOP interests to intercede in another case on early ballots, this one dealing with how quickly they need to be received.
This involves a bid by members of the Navajo Nation to get a court order saying any ballots mailed from reservation addresses should be counted if they are postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Attorneys for the tribal members say slow mail service on reservations can result in people getting their ballots in the mail on time but not arriving at county by the deadline. The result, they argue, is they are being illegally disenfranchised.
Challengers say they are simply seeking to provide reservation residents the same amount of time as those living elsewhere. But attorneys for Republican interests, including the president’s campaign, are openly suggesting that giving reservation residents additional time to get their votes in and counted “would unquestionably affect the share of votes that candidates in the state of Arizona receive,” effectively suggesting it would affect the outcome of elections — to the detriment of GOP candidates.
Snow’s ruling does not mean challengers win by default when he hears arguments this coming week. The law and the deadline for receipt of ballots is being defended by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
Central to the fight in the other case, the one before Rayes, is that Arizona law says the envelopes with early ballots have to be signed if the votes are to be counted.
Election officials already provide an opportunity — right up until 7 p.m. on Election Day — for those who forgot to sign their ballot envelopes to come to county offices. But every year there are several thousands ballots that are not “cured” by the deadline, leaving those envelopes unopened.
Rayes said last week he saw no reason for the hard-and-fast deadline.
“The state has not shown that continuing to implement these existing cure procedures for an additional five business days after an election is likely to impose meaningful administrative burdens on election officials given the relatively small number of ballots at issue,” the judge wrote.
He also noted that the state does allow five days after Election Day to “cure” situations where the signature on the envelope does not match what is on file in county records. Extending that to unsigned envelopes, the judge suggested, is hardly a stretch.
But attorney Patrick Strawbridge who represents the GOP interests, told the judge on Wednesday that the issue is not as clear as he has suggested. He said Rayes’ ruling “raises serious and difficult questions of law in an area where the law is somewhat unclear.”
Beyond that, Strawbridge said while there is a constitutional right to vote, there is no right to vote in any particular way. And he said that requiring early ballots be signed by Election Day imposes no actual burden on voting rights.
“It couldn’t, since in-person voting always remains available,” Strawbridge said.
Potentially more problematic, he argued, is the timing. He said the judge is requiring a last-minute change in election procedures
“This very much has the potential to confuse voters,” Strawbridge wrote. “And as an election draws closer, that risk will increase.”
Assistant Attorney General Michael Catlett raises similar concerns in his own arguments to Rayes asking him to set aside his order, at least for the time being. And he told the judge to ignore arguments that some people whose votes would not be counted this year might be harmed.
Catlett pointed out that Arizona has had an Election Day deadline since 1919.
It is true, he acknowledged, that state lawmakers last year did provide a five-day “cure” period in cases where the signature on the envelope doesn’t match county records.
But Catlett said it was made clear to the Arizona Democratic Party that did not extend to unsigned envelopes. And he said party officials were told last December that Election Day signatures would still be required.
Yet he said challengers waited for another six months to sue.
“Thus, any potential hardship that plaintiffs may suffer from a stay pending appeal is largely self-inflicted,” Catlett wrote.”Little harm, if any, will result from a stay of a deadline that has been in place for decades.”
Rayes gave no indication when he will rule.