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Legally Speaking: Why Arizona’s voter registration deadline was extended

(KTAR News Photo/Kevin Stone)

Arizona seems to have been plagued with lawsuits regarding elections this year. Although justice in our court system is typically a long and drawn out process, when it comes to election cases time is of the essence and our courts react quickly. The latest election related court case centers around the Arizona voter registration deadline of Oct. 5 at midnight.

On Sept. 30, plaintiffs filed a complaint asking the federal court in Arizona to extend this year’s voter registration deadline from Oct. 5 to Oct. 27. Plaintiffs argued that due to the pandemic, they have been unable to register voters and need the additional three weeks to continue to do so.

The defendants — Arizona Secretary of State, the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee — essentially argued that the deadline does not need to be extended because registering to vote has never been easier and the later deadline would create voter confusion and problems with early voting. Gov. Doug Ducey joined in the lawsuit throwing his support behind the defendants.

After resolving preliminary legal issues of standing and timelines, the court jumped into the heart of the lawsuit, extending the voter registration deadline.

Voting is an American right that is taken very seriously. It is held in high regard by many and can be taken away if laws are not followed (i.e. convicted felons lose their right to vote). As such, courts are inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to voters’ rights.

The court in this case conducted a balancing test. It looked at how severe the impact of the voter registration deadline was to plaintiffs and compared that to the government’s interest of having the Oct. 5 deadline. When it comes to issues as important as voting, the court explained the interest of the government keeping the date of Oct. 5 must be compelling, which is the highest standard.

Plaintiffs argued that before the pandemic they were registering around 1,523 voters per week. This dropped to around 282 during the restrictions of the pandemic. The numbers returned to “normal” once the restrictions were lifted. As such, they argued the additional 3 weeks would help those register who have the right to vote and that it doesn’t hurt the government to allow the additional time.

The defendants argued the additional time is not necessary because registering to vote “has never been easier” and can be done online and via telephone. In addition, “the deadline is necessary to ensure voters have lived in the state for 29 days before voting, they need time to verify voter residency, and extending the date will result in voter confusion.” The court quickly dispensed with these arguments by noting 31 other states have later deadlines than Arizona, proof of residency is required at polls, and there will be no confusion.

The court made short work of the “easy registering” claim by noting a significant problem within our state which is “there is a large population of Arizona that lacks access to the internet. Registering to vote has never been easier for some, though others are not so fortunate. Ballot access is an extremely important right, and it has been restricted during this unprecedented time.”

Bottom line #legallyspeaking, the court held the burden on plaintiffs’ constitutional rights far exceed the administrative burden on the government. However, it did recognize the argument regarding potential problems with early voting ballots. Therefore, the court held the deadline shall be extended to Oct. 23, and not the requested date of Oct. 27.

If you still plan to register, however, you might not want to wait because the ruling has been appealed.