Court blocks GOP effort to suppress votes in battleground state

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A federal court struck down a Republican-backed law because it had 'a discriminatory impact on American Indian, Hispanic, and African American voters in Arizona.'

On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a pair of voter suppression efforts backed by Arizona Republicans, the Associated Press reported.

Judge William A. Fletcher, who wrote for the court's majority, found that a 2016 law limiting who can collect and return early ballots, as well as methods the state uses to discard ballots cast in the wrong precinct, are unconstitutional in part because the practices "have a discriminatory impact on American Indian, Hispanic, and African American voters in Arizona," the AP reported.

The 2016 law criminalized most efforts to return someone else's ballot, according to Tucson's Arizona Daily Star. Fletcher wrote that the law unfairly targeted racial minorities, ruling that the Republican-led legislature enacted the law "with discriminatory intent."

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For ballots cast in the wrong precinct, Fletcher ruled that rather than discarding the entire ballot, the state must count votes for offices that would have been legal if the person had shown up at the correct precinct, including statewide offices like U.S. senator and governor, the Daily Star reported.

The Arizona Democratic Party celebrated the decision.

"Today marks an important victory for all Arizonans," Herschel Fink, executive director of the party, said in a statement. "We are pleased that the latest effort to suppress the voices of voters by Republicans has failed."

State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, one of the main Republican sponsors of the overturned legislation, had a less positive response.

"Bull hockey," she said, according to the Daily Star, blaming the decision on "a liberal court."

The lawsuit was brought by the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Arizona Democratic Party shortly after the law passed in 2016, according to the AP. The Arizona Republican Party joined the state of Arizona in defending the law.

Democrats have engaged in an aggressive legal strategy to fight voter suppression efforts around the country. According to a Jan. 22 statement from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic-aligned groups have filed voting rights lawsuits in eight states on issues ranging from early voting to absentee voting to ballot order. The states are North Carolina, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, and Minnesota.

In addition to Arizona, the legal effort to overturn voter suppression laws has already seen some success.

In November 2019, Democrats won a case in Florida, which forced Republicans to stop rigging the ballot by always listing GOP candidates first.

Earlier in January, South Carolina officials agreed to change a rule requiring citizens to put their full nine-digit social security number on voter registration applications. The change came after Democratic organizations filed a lawsuit over the practice, in which they argued the rule suppressed registration because people had privacy concerns about handing over their full social security number.

The change in Arizona comes months ahead of the 2020 election, when the state will likely be in the national spotlight.

In addition to being a potential presidential battleground state, Arizona is home to one of the marquee Senate races in the country, pitting Republican Martha McSally against likely Democratic opponent Mark Kelly.

McSally lost her 2018 bid for Senate, only to be then appointed by the state's Republican governor. Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and Democrats hope their nominee can once again defeat McSally and help the party flip control of the chamber.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.