By Ronn Blitzer
The Supreme Court upheld Arizona voting rules that restrict ballot harvesting and the submission of provisional ballots outside of one’s home precinct, following a challenge from the Democratic National Committee.
In a 6-3 decision on Tuesday, the court ruled that neither the policy requiring provisional ballots to be completely disregarded if submitted at the wrong precinct nor the law making it a felony to submit another person’s ballot (with limited exceptions) violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The decision overturned a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“[N]either Arizona’s out-of-precinct rule nor its ballot-collection law violates §2 of the VRA,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court’s opinion, in which he was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
The court noted that Arizona law “generally makes it quite easy for residents to vote.” Discussing the out-of-precinct rule, Alito noted that the state “made extensive efforts” to alleviate burdens by sending notices to all registered voters when precinct locations are changed and by requiring election officials to send out sample ballots to each home with a registered voter that includes a notice of the proper polling location. The court also pointed out that the Arizona secretary of state’s office sends pamphlets with polling information, and that voters can look online or call to find out their precinct location.
“Having to identify one’s own polling place and then travel there to vote does not exceed the ‘usual burdens of voting,’ Alito wrote. “On the contrary, these tasks are quintessential examples of the usual burdens of voting.”
In discussing the ballot harvesting law, the Supreme Court recalled the district court’s findings. The lower court found that the DNC did not provide any records of how many people had previously relied on third parties to deliver their ballots before the practice was made illegal, nor had they provided statistics of what percentage of this group were minorities.
Alito also mentioned how the lower court said that “none of the individual voters called by the plaintiffs had even claimed that the ballot collection restriction ‘would make it significantly more difficult to vote.””
The court stated that the plaintiffs in the case “were unable to provide statistical evidence” that the law even had a disparate impact on minorities, and that they only had witnesses testifying that people in disadvantaged areas were more likely to use third parties, and that minorities are disproportionately living in such areas.
“As with the out-of-precinct policy, the modest evidence of racially disparate burdens caused by HB 2023, in light of the State’s justifications, leads us to the conclusion that the law does not violate §2 of the VRA,” the court said.
The Supreme Court’s opinion also pointed out that when the Ninth Circuit’s en banc review found discriminatory intent, they did not say that a majority of lawmakers themselves had discriminatory intent, but were merely used as “cat’s paws” by others.
“Under our form of government, legislators have a duty to exercise their judgment and to represent their constituents. It is insulting to suggest that they are mere dupes or tools,” Alito wrote.
“Today is a win for election integrity safeguards in Arizona and across the country,” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement following the court’s ruling. “Fair elections are the cornerstone of our republic, and they start with rational laws that protect both the right to vote and the accuracy of the results.”
Justice Elena Kagan railed against the majority opinion in a dissent, in which she was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
“What is tragic here is that the Court has (yet again) rewritten—in order to weaken—a statute that stands as a monument to America’s greatness, and protects against its basest impulses. What is tragic is that the Court has damaged a statute designed to bring about ‘the end of discrimination in voting,'” Kagan wrote.
Alito addressed Kagan’s words in the court’s opinion.
“The dissent is correct that the Voting Rights Act exemplifies our country’s commitment to democracy, but there is nothing democratic about the dissent’s attempt to bring about a wholesale transfer of the authority to set voting rules from the States to the federal courts,” he said.