Arizona Democrats Sue Over Holiday Voter Registration Deadline

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Friday, October 21, 2016 - 8:16am
Updated: Friday, October 21, 2016 - 11:45am
(Photo via
Service Arizona's website in 2016.

National and state Democratic groups are suing Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan for setting Oct.10 as the voter registration deadline for the upcoming election, since that day was a federal and state holiday.

The secretary of state’s office directed county recorders to use Oct. 10 as the deadline because a state statute sets the registration deadline at 29 days before the election. But Democrats said the deadline should have been extended to the next business day, since Oct. 10 was Columbus Day.

The Arizona Democratic Party and Democratic National Committee are now asking a federal judge to require election officials to allow people who registered the following day to be allowed to vote in the November election.

A hearing has been set for Friday afternoon.

Spencer Scharff of the Arizona Democratic Party said the decision to put the deadline on a holiday violates both federal and state law.

“We know there are a number of Arizona residents who will be affected by this lawsuit, but even if there was just one would-be voter disenfranchised by the secretary’s decision to set the deadline on a state and federal holiday, that is one too many,” Scharff said.

In their court filing, Democrats argue that voters were denied the chance to use many of the most common avenues to register to vote in the final days before the deadline, since Arizona Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) offices were closed on the holiday as was the U.S. Post Office. Plus MVD offices were also closed over the weekend before the deadline, and the post office was closed on the Sunday before.

They include data from previous elections, showing the registration deadline is typically the busiest day for people to register. 

Democrats first raised the issue in September and asked county recorders to extend the deadline. Only Mohave County did so.

Matt Roberts, a spokesman for the Secretary of State's office, said his office and 14 county recorder offices were open to register voters on Oct. 10.

"Plus, thousands of people found a way to register online throughout the day," Roberts said. 

But in court filings, Democrats argue that online registration was only available on Service Arizona for would-be voters with driver’s licenses and internet, and there were hiccups for some naturalized citizens using the site.

Roberts said that his office was following state statute when it set the deadline. "Our office is uncomfortable with unilaterally moving deadlines that exist in state law," Roberts said. "Even if we wanted to, the consequence would either be reducing the amount of time our county recorders have to process registration forms, or the number of days people have their early ballots." 

Still, he said his office will be asking the legislature to change state law so there is not a conflict with holidays in the future.