Supreme Court Reversal On Ballot Harvesting Comes After Arizona Groups Already Collected Ballots

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Saturday, November 5, 2016 - 2:48pm
Updated: Saturday, November 5, 2016 - 2:56pm
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
An early ballot for Maricopa County.

For less than one day, it was legal in Arizona to collect ballots from voters who had not mailed back their early ballots, but now the practice is a felony again.

Election officials are now directing anyone who collected ballots in the window that it was legal to turn them in to county recorders' offices on Monday.

The legal whiplash is thanks to a series of emergency court rulings, the latest coming from the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday morning, which reinstated a 2016 Arizona law that crimminalizes anyone except relatives, roommates and caregivers from collecting ballots from others.

On Friday, grassroots campaigns began going door-to-door collecting ballots after a ruling from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals suspended the law. Democrats had challenged the law, arguing it violated the Voting Rights Act and criminalized a voting practice that many minority voters relied on.

But as advocacy groups began collecting ballots, Arizona asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the lower court's ruling. On Saturday just after 8 a.m. Arizona time, the high court granted the stay. That made the practice of ballot collection — or "ballot harvesting" as it is known to critics — a felony again.

"We are extremely pleased the Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit's decision," said Secretary of State Michele Reagan in a statement. "This common sense law simply ensures ballot security in the state of Arizona and we're relived that there will be no changes to the law this late in the election cycle."

Republican lawmakers passed the law this spring, saying it was necessary to prevent voter fraud. It took effect in July. The August primary was the first election that ballot collection was a crime.

Secretary of state spokesman Matt Roberts said those who collected ballots during the brief window it was legal should turn them in on Monday. He said they need not be fearful or wary when they drop them off but should do it as quickly as possible.

The coalition One Arizona, which registered 150,000 Latino voters this election, said organizations that were doing get-out-the-vote canvasses Saturday morning were alerted that it was no longer legal to collect ballots when the Supreme Court ruling came down.

“We are disappointed to hear that the Supreme Court reversed the stay," said Ian Danley, Director of One Arizona. "This is another case of the GOP playing games with people’s votes and placing barriers in front of voters. But we will follow the law to the letter."

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling did not address the legality of the law banning ballot collection. Though the ruling does not provide any reasoning, election law expert and University of California Irvine law professor Rick Hasen wrote on his Election Law Blog on Saturday he believes the ruling indicates the high court did not approve of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals suspending the law so close to the election. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will consider the legality of the law in January, after the election.

Democrats first appealed the law in April shortly after it passed, but the case moved slowly at the U.S. District Court, which prompted this flurry of appeals right before the election.