Early voter law changed before SCOTUS ruling

Voter Proudly Displays Evidence that He Voted on Election Day in the United States.

A new ruling upholding Arizona election laws comes as state lawmakers just changed one of the reasons the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to leave those statutes in place. 

In concluding the ban on ballot harvesting does not violate the Voting Rights Act, the court cited how easy it is for Arizonans to cast early ballots, Justice Samuel Alito pointed out that, among other things, “any voters may ask to be sent an early ballot automatically in future elections.” That was true at the time the case was argued at the court in March. 

But that was before the Republican-controlled Legislature adopted SB1485. 

That law says that if someone does not return an early ballot in at least one of four prior elections the person is dropped from what until now had been called the “permanent early voting list.” 

They still could sign up again to get early ballots. They also would have to be notified before being removed from the list. 

And they could still go directly to the polls on Election Day. 

But it would entail an additional hurdle. 

More to the point, foes argued this would have a disparate negative impact on minority voters who may be less inclined to vote in every election but still want the option of getting that ballot for the years they are interested in casting an early ballot. That proved particularly true in 2020 with not just record turnout but also nearly 90% of the votes cast by early ballots. 

All that raises two questions. 

The first is whether the Supreme Court might have reached a different conclusion on the legality of the 2016 law against “ballot harvesting” had the justices known of the subsequent action of Arizona lawmakers. That, for the moment, remains an academic question. 

Second is whether this new law fits within the guidelines laid out in the Supreme Court’s July 1 ruling about what changes states can and cannot enact without running afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act. 

During debate on SB1485, proponents argued that having un-voted early ballots leads to the possibility that someone else could get hold of them and cast a fraudulent vote. Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said that in Pima County alone there were about 70,000 early ballots mailed out last election that were not returned. 

But Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said there is no documented evidence of fraud due to early voting. 

That may be irrelevant. In their July 1 ruling, the justices said a state need not have evidence of fraud before enacting restrictions designed to protect election integrity. 

There is, however, still the question of whether the law will have a disparate impact on people of color. 

That was the argument of Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale. He said that leads him to believe that the measure was enacted due to “systemic racism.” 

Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who defended the ballot harvesting law at the Supreme Court, said he believes SB1485 is defensible. 

“In and of itself, cleaning up early voting lists is not something that’s going to trigger the Voting Rights Act per se,” he told Capitol Media Services. 


Green candidate drops out of U.S. Senate race, throws support to Sinema

Voters wait in line at dawn to cast their ballot in Arizona's presidential primary election, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
 (AP Photo/Matt York)

A last-minute decision by the Green Party candidate to drop out of the race for U.S. Senate could provide Democrat Kyrsten Sinema a needed bump.

Angela Green told KPNX-TV on Thursday she wants people to vote for “a better Arizona.”

“And that would be for Kyrsten Sinema,” she said.

Angela Green
Angela Green
U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. speaks prior to delivering her signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State's office Tuesday, May 29, 2018 at the Capitol in Phoenix. Sinema is officially running as a Democrat for U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. Women running for office have crossed another threshold with a record number of candidates for the U.S. Senate. Actually winning those seats and changing the face of the chamber are a different matter. Many of the women jumping into Senate races face uphill campaigns. (AP Photo/Matt York)
U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (AP Photo/Matt York)

Green, whose polling has never gotten above single digits, said she struggled with the decision.

“But that’s what it is,” she said.

Green said she could not support Republican Martha McSally who, depending on which poll is cited, is in a neck-and-neck race with Sinema. That decision, Green said, had to do with Sinema’s views.

“They are more in line with what my political, my agenda is, what I’m looking to do to help Arizona become more green again,” she said. That conclusion, Green said, came following watching the debate between the two contenders.

“Sinema’s stance on a lot of things are close to mine,” she said.

Whether that moves the needle remains to be seen.

A survey by OH Predictive Insights released Wednesday put McSally at 52 percent versus 45 percent for Sinema. Green was polling at 1 percent, with 2 percent undecided. That survey was taken between Oct. 22 and 23.

But a CNN poll covering Oct. 24 through 29 had Sinema up 4 points, the poll’s margin of error.

And one done by NBC and Marist in the Oct. 23 to 27 had Sinema with a 6-point lead in a head-to-head race, though Sinema’s lead shrunk to 3 points when polled as a three-way race including Green.

Then there’s the question of whether there are enough Green supporters out there who have not already mailed in their early ballots.

Figures Thursday from the Secretary of State show about 1.35 million ballots already have been turned in.

U.S Rep. Martha McSally

There are about 3.7 million registered voters. But that still leaves the question of how many will actually cast a vote.

The last midterm election in 2014 had a turnout of just 47.2 percent of those registered.

There have been some predictions that voter interest is stronger this year than it was at that time, especially with the fight over the Senate seat that became open when Republican Jeff Flake decided not to seek reelection.

By comparison, turnout two years ago, with a presidential election, was 74.2 percent.

“Sixteen years later and Kyrsten Sinema’s still the Green Party’s candidate,” said McSally spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair. That is a reference to the fact that Sinema had aligned herself with the Green Party in her first bid for the Legislature in 2002; she did not get elected until two years later under the Democratic Party banner.

Green could not be reached for comment.

At least one area where Green’s views likely come closer to that of Sinema is on the issue of immigration.

“I, too, am an immigrant,” she wrote on the information submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office. “That is why I support programs like DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and laws that make it easier and more efficient for immigrants coming here to become valuable citizens in our society.”

McSally, by contrast, has hewed close to the positions of President Trump, promoting the fact that she supported legislation that includes building a wall. She also has come out in support of the president’s decision to send troops to the border.