US Appeals Court Blocks Arizona Ban On Groups Collecting Ballots

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Friday, November 4, 2016 - 1:21pm
Updated: Friday, November 4, 2016 - 6:13pm
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
An early ballot for Maricopa County.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Friday that Arizona can’t enforce a state law this election that criminalizes turning in another person's early ballot. The ruling is a victory for the Democratic Party.

Unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, the ruling clears the way for political campaigners to go door to door, collecting and turning in ballots that voters had not mailed back in time.

Critics, mostly Republicans, call the practice “ballot harvesting” and say it invites voter fraud. Republican lawmakers tried to halt it by passing a state law that made it a felony to turn in someone else’s ballot, with an exception for relatives, caregivers and roommates.

Democrats sued, saying ballot collection is key way to get out the vote, especially from minority households. They argued the law violated the Voting Rights Act.

Voting rights and Democratic groups celebrated the ruling allowing ballot collection on Friday afternoon.

“We are thrilled that the election process in Arizona just got even easier,” said Spencer Scharff, the voter protection director for the Arizona Democratic Party.

But the state of Arizona immediately asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and issue a stay on the 9th Circuit ruling. The high court directed Democrats to file a response by 9 a.m. eastern time on Saturday.

“We are disappointed in this decision as it will confuse voters and depress turnout,” Secretary of State Michele Reagan said in a statement.

The 9th Circuit ruled to allow ballot collecting this election in a 6-5 vote. The decision reversed an earlier ruling by a three judge panel that had upheld the law.

The 11-judge 9th Circuit panel will revisit the legality of the law during an oral argument in January.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to correct the 9th U.S. Circuit's vote count. The headline has been modified to specify U.S. Appeals Court, and the story has also been updated to include information about the appeal.