PHOENIX — Federal judges dealt double blows to Democrats’ efforts to challenge Arizona election laws Tuesday, with an appeals court panel refusing to block a new law prohibiting get-out-the-vote groups from collecting early ballots and a U.S. District Court judge declining to order Arizona to count votes cast in the wrong precinct.
The rulings came in different parts of the same lawsuit filed by Democratic voters and national and state Democratic groups, along with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. It was filed after major problems with long lines during the March presidential primary election and the signing of the new ballot collection law by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
In the ballot collection portion, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to overturn a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes that kept the new law in effect. It means people who collect ballots for delivery to the polls in most cases face a felony charge.
Democratic groups challenged the law under the Voting Rights Act and argued it disproportionately affected minority voters. Republican backers argued it was needed to prevent voting fraud.
Both parties have used ballot collection to boost turnout during elections by going door-to-door and asking voters if they have completed their mail-in ballot. If they have not, they urge them to do so and offer to return it to elections offices. Democrats, however, use the technique more often as part of their get-out-the-vote efforts.
Ducey signed the law in early March, calling it a “common-sense approach to maintaining the integrity of our elections.”
In their injunction request, Democrats argued there has been a lengthy history of discrimination at the polls in Arizona and that the law was orchestrated to suppress voter turnout among Democratic voters.
The separate district court ruling by Rayes rejected a request by Democrats to block Arizona’s practice of invalidating ballots cast in the incorrect precinct. The judge said the state has a valid reason not to count such votes because different races are on ballots in different precincts and Democrats haven’t shown that minorities were affected more than white voters.
The decisions don’t end the case but instead keep current practices in place pending a full trial.
Messages seeking comment from state Democratic Party officials weren’t immediately returned. Matt Roberts, spokesman for Secretary of State Michele Roberts, also didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.