By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Arizona should not be forced to give voters a chance to "cure'' the fact that they forgot to sign the the envelopes holding their ballots before dropping them in the mail, Attorney General Mark Brnovich contends.
In new legal filings Monday, Brnovich, told U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes he should reject the bid by the state and national Democratic parties to give people who didn't sign their ballot envelopes five business days after Election Day to come in and fix the problem.
Brnovich said that Arizona is one of the easiest states for people to cast ballots. That ranges from allowing people to register online to the fact that people can vote early without needing an excuse.
And he called this lawsuit an "attempt (by Democrats) to invalidate or alter duly-enacted laws for their own electoral benefit,'' noting they want the change to take effect for this year's election.
But the Democrats contend its only fair.
In filing suit, they noted that state lawmakers last year agreed to require county election officials to give people five business days to "cure'' their ballots if it appears that the signature on the envelope does not match what is on file, even if that occurs after Election Day. But attorney Alexis Danneman said Arizona law does not offer a similar option for those who simply failed to sign the envelope.
And what that means is that if they haven't signed the envelope by 7 p.m. on Election Day, their votes are not counted, even if they were registered and even if they got their ballots in on time.
Brnovich said the comparison between those whose signatures don't match and those who just don't sign the envelopes is invalid.
"The signature requirement is the subject of extensive notice,'' he wrote. Brnovich said that advice appears both on the front and back of the envelope as well as in the instructions.
"The adequacy of the notice provided is not contended here,'' he said. What is happening, Brnovich said, is the challengers "seek a new substantive right to have votes counted notwithstanding their violations of state law,'' specifically, signing the ballot by the deadline.
And there's something else.
Brnovich said it's one thing to give someone whose signature does not match what's on file at county election offices some time to come in and fix the problem. County officials have said there are many reasons for this, including illness and age.
"The voter is often blameless,'' he said. "But for completely absent signatures, the disqualification will nearly always be the (ITALICS) exclusive fault (ROMAN) of the affected voters -- particularly given the clarity of the notice.''
The challengers are seeking an order from Rayes requiring counties at this year's November general election to give those who sent in their ballots without signatures extra time to fix it.
Getting that kind of injunction generally requires a showing of "irreparable harm'' to the people seeking the order. And Brnovich acknowledged that the people who failed to sign the envelopes might find their votes are not counted.
"But the same is true for showing up to a polling place at 8 p.m. on Election Day,'' he said. "And the state's poll closing time has never been deemed a 'severe' burden.''
Anyway, Brnovich charges that the only real "harm'' the Democrats are alleging is that somehow the votes for their candidates would not be counted.
He's not entirely off base.
"It is inevitable that Democrats, or those who would vote for Democrats, will not have their vote counted as a result of defendants' failure to allow voters to cure missing signatures after Election Day,'' wrote Danneman. The result, she said, is that the party will be less likely to be successful in its "mission to help elect Democratic candidates to public office.''
Brnovich sniffed at that argument about the "mission'' of the party being a reason that Rayes should order a change in state law.
"That is merely an 'abstract social interest,' '' he wrote. Anyway, Brnovich said, there is nothing in the claim that more Democratic votes would be disqualified than those of Republicans.
Danneman, however, claimed a financial component to all this, saying the party has had to spend extra money to educate voters to ensure that their votes are counted.
"For example, the Arizona Democratic Party anticipates needing to focus additional educational resources on areas of Arizona with low English literacy rates,'' she said. "This is dues to the heightened risk that voters in such areas will fail to understand mail ballot instructions, inadvertently mail the ballot without a signature, and be disenfranchised if their ballot is received with insufficient time to cure.''
Brnovich told Rayes there are other legal problems with the relief the Democrats are seeking.
One is that the the lawsuit, filed in June, seeking changes for this year. The attorney general told the judge he should not be rushed into a decision because challengers waited so long.
He also questioned the harm caused by the law on unsigned ballots, saying that just one-tenth of one percent of all ballots cast in 2018 were disqualified for the lack of signatures.
The lawsuit has drawn national interest, with even the Trump reelection campaign intervening in asking Rayes to toss the lawsuit. The judge has scheduled a hearing to hear arguments later this month.