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Judge is asked to extend Arizona's voter registration deadline due to pandemic

Judge is asked to extend Arizona's voter registration deadline due to pandemic

  • Updated

PHOENIX — Two groups want more time to sign up voters for this election, saying the pandemic interfered with the process.

Legal papers filed in federal court claim the deadline of Oct. 5 to register does not work this year. That date complies with the requirement in Arizona law to close the process 29 days before the general election.

Mi Familia Vota and the Arizona Coalition for Change are asking U.S. District Court Judge Steven Logan to extend the deadline to no earlier than Oct. 27. That date is just a week ahead of the vote.

The move could draw opposition from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, if for no other reason than it is so close to the election to be making major changes.

Attorney Zoe Salzman said her clients recognize that. But she said there is ample evidence the unique conditions this year have put a damper on getting people registered to vote.

She also said Arizona’s voter registration deadline is one of the most restrictive in the county, and that 37 other states allow people to sign up closer than 29 days before the election. Salzman said 40% of states permit people to register the same day they vote.

All that notwithstanding, she pointed out her clients are requesting a change in the registration deadline for this year only.

Salzman said Mi Familia Vota had the goal of registering 30,000 new voters this year and Arizona Coalition for Change had a target of 25,000.

That was interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak and the various orders by Gov. Doug Ducey in March limiting group gatherings, closing certain businesses and, eventually, issuing a stay-at-home order. While some of this was lifted in May, a spike in new cases resulted in new restrictions, which ran into August.

Other limits remain, affecting traditional sites to sign up voters.

“In response to the pandemic and the governor’s orders, the majority of these high-traffic areas, including schools, churches, and community centers, closed at the end of March 2020 and most remain closed to this day,” Salzman wrote.

“Even in those high-traffic areas which remained open, such as grocery stores, it was almost impossible for voter registration staffers to register voters while maintaining the physical distancing of at least six feet required by the governor’s orders.”

The distancing requirement also complicated door-to-door registration efforts.

Salzman said this isn’t a problem of just her clients.

For example, she said, in the 2016 presidential election year, 146,214 people registered to vote in Arizona between January and August. This year the figure is 62,565.

A court order extending the deadline, Salzman said, would make a real difference.

She said in the last three weeks alone, with most restrictions lifted, Mi Familia Vota registered 4,500 new voters. That is in line with the pace before the March closures.

Salzman alleges that the deadline, at least this year, places a “severe burden” on the right to register voters, something she said are “core political rights protected by the First Amendment.” She also is arguing to Logan that the deadline, at least this year, deprives people of their right to vote, violating their due process rights.

She dismissed concerns that pushing the deadline beyond Oct. 5 would cause problems in running the election, pointing out for example, that early voting starts on Oct. 7.

“That means that, as a matter of course, Arizonans can register to vote on Oct. 5 and cast their ballot by voting early just two days later,” Salzman said.

She also said the state allows already registered voters to simultaneously update their address and cast their votes the same day. And the use of electronic poll books, instead of the old-style computer printouts, allows for swift and frequent updating of the list with new registrations, she said.

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Arizona's top two elected officials, a Republican and a Democrat, are squabbling over election procedures. Hanging in the balance is the ability to vote for people in some nursing homes, hospitals and other places who can't physically fill out ballots themselves but also can't have visitors due to COVID-19.

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