PHOENIX — Democrats made a last-ditch effort Friday to get at least another 2,069 people registered to vote for the general election.
Attorney Kevin Hamilton is arguing that Secretary of State Michele Reagan acted illegally in refusing to accept applications submitted on Oct. 11. He wants U.S. District Court Judge Steven Logan to order those people eligible to vote.
He acknowledged Arizona law makes the 29th day before the general election the last opportunity to register to vote. This year that date came on Oct. 10 which both the state and federal governments celebrate as Columbus Day.
But Hamilton noted there is a general state law which says that when deadlines fall on a state holiday, it then goes to the next business day. Based on that, the Arizona Democratic Party asked Reagan to direct counties, which actually handle actual registrations, to accept applications turned in on Oct. 11.
When Reagan refused and the deadline passed, the Democrats filed suit.
Assistant Attorney General Kara Karlson said the deadline in state law was the day before that. And she told Logan there is no reason to create this exception.
Logan, however, appeared skeptical.
He grilled Eric Spencer, the state elections director and Reagan’s adviser, about why he and his boss concluded the law on moving deadlines that fall on holidays did not apply. And Logan pointed out that officials in at least one county did interpret the law to give voters an extra day.
“Do you think Mohave County got it right?” the judge asked.
“I do not believe they got it right,” Spencer responded. “What Mohave County did upsets the delicately balanced system.”
That’s not the only fact working against Reagan’s refusal to extend the deadline.
The judge noted that Reagan’s predecessor, Ken Bennett, gave voters an extra day to register four years ago when the deadline, like this year, fell on Columbus Day. Spencer essentially brushed that aside as irrelevant.
Karlson called the lawsuit “a nakedly partisan attempt to change the rules of the game.” And she sought to convince the judge the holiday really was not an impediment to people meeting the Oct. 10 deadline, even though it was a holiday.
She pointed out that offices at 14 of the state’s 15 counties were open that day, having traded this holiday for the Friday after Thanksgiving. And Mohave County, which did close on Oct. 10, actually accepted registrations the following day.
But it remains to be seen whether those Mohave County residents who signed up on Oct. 11 will, in fact, be eligible to vote.
Spencer testified that the statewide voter registration database is set up to have a single cutoff time. That, he said, was midnight the night of Oct. 10.
What that means, Spencer said, is that, absent a court order, the state database used to prepare the list of who can vote will not include people Mohave County registered on Oct. 11. He said that means if county election officials want those Oct. 11 registrations to be honored they will have to “fudge the numbers” to make it appear they actually got the forms the prior day.
In defending the Oct. 10 deadline, state officials also pointed out there were other options available Monday, including the ability of people with driver’s licenses or state-issued ID cards to register online.
But Spencer Scharff, the party’s Voter Protection Director, said two options were not available: going to offices of the Motor Vehicle Division, which were closed, or dropping a registration form into a mail box and having it postmarked on Oct. 10 because the post office was closed.
He also testified that these options are widely used, with a study between 2010 and 2012 showing that each amounting to 20 percent of total registrations.
Spencer testified there were 2,069 people who submitted voter registration forms on Oct. 11. That includes forms turned in that day directly to the state party’s offices.
But he acknowledged the number may be greater, as several counties may still be processing registrations that were turned in at the last minute.
Spencer defended the use of the Oct. 10 deadline. And he said there is no reason for voters not to have known about the deadline — even with that being a state holiday — with his office providing extensive publicity ahead of time about the cutoff date.
Logan gave no indication when he will rule.