Judge Extends Arizona Voter Registration Deadline
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Arizonans will be given another 2 1/2 weeks to sign up to vote in the upcoming election.
In a ruling late Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Steven Logan said the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on travel and gathering imposed by Gov. Doug Ducey made it difficult for some groups to fulfill their goals of getting more people to register to vote. So he said that, at least for this year, Monday's deadline does not apply.
Instead, he is directing the state's 15 county recorders to accept all voter registration applications received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 23.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs will not appeal the decision.
"We need to give the voters clarity,'' she said. "We don't want to prolong this.''
That, however, may not be the end of it.
Logan allowed Kory Langhofer, who represents the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to intercede in the case. And Langhofer said late Monday he is still reviewing the ruling with his clients to see if they want to try to get it overturned.
That is a substantial hurdle in a short period of time, especially if the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sides with Logan and Langhofer has to seek intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court.
At a hearing earlier in the day Monday, attorney Kara Karlson who represents Hobbs argued that moving the deadline closer to the election would create problems. She pointed out that early ballots go out Wednesday and, presumably, starting to come back to county offices soon after.
Logan brushed that aside, questioning whether the cutoff of of 29 days before the election, one of the longest in the country, was "antiquated.''
"The court takes not that 31 other states have later voter deadlines than Arizona,'' he said. In fact, Logan noted, some actually allow people to register right up to election day.
Langhofer had no better luck with his arguments to Logan that it's not like face-to-face voter registration is the only way people can sign up to vote.
"Perhaps most importantly in this era of public health exigencies, physical contact is not a prerequisite to attaining qualified elector status in Arizona,'' Langhofer said. "Any individual possessing a computer, smartphone or postage stamp may register to vote in a matter of minutes without leaving her home or risking exposure to COVID-19 pathogens.''
Logan was not impressed.
"This court acknowledges the efforts made by the secretary and the state to make voter registration easier,'' he wrote.
"The court is also cognizant of the large population of Arizona that lacks access to the internet,'' Logan continued. "Registering to vote has never been easier for (ITALICS) some, (ROMAN) though others are not so fortunate.''
Instead, the judge said he was convinced by arguments by Zoe Salzman who pointed out how successful had been the efforts of Mi Familia Vota and the Arizona Coalition for Change to get people signed up -- at least until March when the pandemic and the governor's orders changed everything.
Specifically, Logan said the challengers were registering about 1,523 voters a week before the pandemic; that figure dropped to 282 a week during the restrictions.
Salzman told the judge that once those restrictions were lifted the number of new registrations returned to pre-COVID levels. And she said if he granted an extra three weeks -- she had asked for an Oct. 27 cutoff -- the challengers would be able to register another 25,000 voters.
All that, Logan said, means that the additional burden on the state and the recorders of extending the registration deadline is outweighed by the effect of those who would be hurt by leaving it in place.
"The harm suffered is loss of possibly tens of thousands of voter registrations,'' the judge said, along with interfering with the constitutional rights of the challengers to organize voters. "Plaintiffs' interests outweigh those of the government.''
Karlson argued that, if nothing else, Logan should throw out the challenge because of how late it was filed, coming less than a week before Monday's deadline. She said it should have been clear long before Sept. 30, when the lawsuit was filed, that COVID-19 was affecting the ability to sign people up to vote.
The judge, however, said there was a good reason for Salzman and her clients to wait. He said they needed the data from September -- after the restrictions were lifted -- to make their case to show that it is now easier than before to register people and, more to the point, provide the estimates of how many more they could sign up if given additional time.
Logan also was not buying Karlson's argument that this last-minute change in the long-known deadline to register will cause confusion.
"Voters who are already registered will not need to bother with the new deadline,'' he wrote. "And those voters that were unable to register before Oct. 5 now have extra time.''