Ballot Harvesting Law Faces Court Battle, Questions About Enforcement

Published: Tuesday, August 2, 2016 - 5:53pm
Updated: Tuesday, August 2, 2016 - 6:46pm
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Paul Atkinson/KJZZ

At least two Arizona counties are not prepared to implement a new state law that outlaws ballot harvesting.

The news comes during the same week a federal judge will hear arguments on whether to block the law.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2023 in March. It makes it a felony for anyone other than an election official, post office worker, family member, household member or caregiver to collect early ballots.  

In April, the Democratic National Committee and others sued the Arizona Secretary of State over the so-called botched Presidential Preference Election. In June, the handful of plaintiffs filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction against HB 2023.

The plaintiffs have argued in court documents that HB 2023 discriminates against minorities, especially Hispanics, and is just the latest in a long line of the state’s systematic targeting of that ethnic group. They’ve also argued the law violates the Voting Rights Act, the First Amendment right to association and it's aimed at suppressing Democratic voter turnout.

Defendants, which include the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the state Republican Party and others, have countered  the plaintiffs want to derail the November election. They’ve said in court documents that HB 2023 modernizes Arizona election laws and is just as likely to impact white voters as minorities.

While there is a fundamental right to vote, they’ve argued there’s no right to do it by absentee ballot. They've said the law is narrowly tailored to prevent voter fraud, which is an issue the public has expressed concern about.

The sides are due in federal court Wednesday for a hearing.

Enforcement policy unclear, counties say

On Tuesday, Maricopa and Mohave county elections officials said HB 2023 does not specify who should enforce it, or how. Pima, Yuma and Cochise counties did not return calls seeking comment.

The Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, also a defendant in the suit, has received no direction from state officials on how to implement the law, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew. She said instructions would come from either the legislature, or the secretary of state's office.

“We’re very busy on election day,” Bartholomew said. “Our poll workers won’t be standing by the ballot box if someone comes in with multiple ballots."

To enforce it in November, Bartholomew said county elections officials would likely have to hire extra people to inspect ballots as they’re dropped off and re-visit training that started about a month ago.

“That would kind of have to be a last-minute training for our poll workers,” Bartholomew said. “I don’t really know how we would implement that."

Mohave County provides lots of places for people to drop off their ballots, said Kim Stewart, administrative supervisor of voter registration for the Mohave County Recorder’s Office.

“I have had not had, in the past, issues with candidates or proponents of issues going out and bringing in ballots," Stewart said. “We’re basically going to go with standard operating procedures.”

There is still enough time to implement HB 2023, Stewart said.

“If the state gives us a direction, if they write a procedure for us, we will absolutely put it into place,” Stewart said. “I don’t think we’ll have any problem doing that.” 

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Some counties say they are unprepared to enforce law.
Judge will hear arguments on whether to block the law Wednesday.
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