Democrats Say Arizona Voter Registration Deadline Should Not Fall On A Holiday

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - 5:32pm
Updated: Thursday, September 22, 2016 - 5:51pm
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Arizona Democratic Party officials say state election officials improperly set Columbus Day — a federal and state holiday that falls on Oct. 10 — as the last day to register to vote in the November election. They are asking county election officials to accept voter registration applications through the following business day, which they say is consistent with state law.

A state statute makes the deadline to register to vote 29 days before an election. This year that day falls on Oct. 10.

Last month, State Election Director Eric Spencer sent an email to county recorders directing them that Oct. 10 should remain the deadline in spite of being a holiday.

In that email, Spencer wrote his team felt bound by a 1968 Arizona Supreme Court opinion. In that case, the court ruled a Sunday deadline for election officials to deliver ballots to county recorders could not be moved to the following Monday because the action had to be completed no less than 30 days before the election.

“[W]e believe the right (albeit difficult) decision is to reaffirm the October 10 deadline,” Spencer wrote.

But Spencer Scharff, the voter protection director for the Arizona Democratic Party believes that is a mistake.

He argues the case Spencer cited does not deal with voter registration, and that under Arizona law the deadline should move to midnight of the next business day.

“Thus, Oct. 11 not Oct.10 should be the final day to submit a voter registration application to be eligible to vote in the next election,” Scharff said.

Arizona Democratic Party officials sent a letter on Monday to every county recorder in the state asking them to confirm they will accept voter registrations through Oct. 11.

In the letter they cite a 1958 opinion from a former Arizona attorney general that said a voter registration deadline that fell on July 4 should move to the following business day. They also cite an Arizona statute that specifies that when a deadline falls on a holiday, the deadline is extended to the next business day.

The letter asks county recorders to seek a legal opinion from their county attorneys if they plan to use the Oct. 10 deadline.

“It is not difficult to see why Arizona law does not allow the voter registration deadline to fall on Columbus Day,” Scharff said. “Many government offices that process voter registration applications are closed.”

For example Motor Vehicle Division offices and U.S. post offices are closed. That means would-be-voters cannot register in person at the MVD or if they put their registration form in a mailbox on the 10th, it won’t be postmarked that day.

The Arizona voter registration form instructs voters that if they mail their registration “the form must be received by the County Recorder no later than five days after the last day to register to vote in that election or be postmarked 29 days or more before an election and received by the County Recorder by 7 p.m. on election day.”

A 2013 U.S. Election Assistance Commission report found 40 percent of Arizona voters registered to vote either by mail or in person at the MVD.

On Monday, Dr. Eric Meyer, House minority leader, asked Attorney General Mark Brnovich to issue an opinion on what the voter registration deadline should be.

Meanwhile Matt Roberts, a spokesman for the Arizona Secretary of State, questioned why Democrats were raising concerns over the voter registration deadline now, since the deadline was announced last February.

“It just makes you wonder if Dr. Meyer and the state Democratic party were waiting for politically opportune moment to offer their feedback,” Roberts wrote in an email. “If Dr. Meyer or state Democratic officials had bothered to ask before issuing a press release, they might have learned we came to that decision after consulting counsel.”

According to Roberts, despite the Columbus Day holiday, on Oct. 10 voters will still be able to use to register until midnight, and 13 out o fthe 15 county recorder offices will be open.

“In real life, decisions like these take on consequences and this decision boils down to three choices,” Roberts wrote. “Reduce the time counties have to process registration forms, reduce the amount of time voters can have an early ballot, or simply apply the law as written by the legislature, knowing most of the election offices around the state will be open alongside a 24 hour online registration system.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated to include comments from Arizona Secretary of State spokesman Matt Roberts and correct Spencer Scharff's title.