PHOENIX — A federal appeals panel that rejected a Democratic effort to block a new Arizona law barring groups from collecting early ballots from voters now has expedited a full hearing on the request.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled arguments for Wednesday. Last week, a panel summarily rejected an emergency injunction request. But late Friday, the three judges on the panel decided to expedite a full hearing on the Democrats’ request. The previous schedule called for hearings well after the Nov. 8 general election.
A different three-judge panel is set to hear the case.
The new law signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this year means people who collect mail-in ballots in most cases face a felony charge.
Democratic groups argue the law disproportionately affects minority voters. Ducey called it a common-sense law to protect election integrity.
U.S. District Court Judge Douglas L. Rayes last month shot down Democratic groups’ request for an injunction to keep the law from being enforced. In his opinion, Rayes said lawyers representing state and national Democratic groups failed to show that the law would disparately impact minority voters. He said it “simply regulates an administrative aspect of the electoral process.”
Democrats appealed, urging the 9th Circuit to overturn Rayes and issue an injunction blocking the law.
Spencer Scharff, voter protection director for the Arizona Democratic Party, said the decision to expedite the hearing is a good sign.
“We are optimistic that the 9th Circuit will rule in our favor and find that we are likely to succeed on the merits and issue an injunction,” Scharff said. “That would prevent the state of Arizona from enforcing H.B. 2023, a measure that criminalizes the act of helping a neighbor vote.”
The Democratic groups sued Secretary of State Michele Reagan, but the state Republican Party intervened and asked to be a party to the lawsuit.
Tim Sifert, spokesman for the state GOP, declined to comment on the ongoing litigation. But after Rayes ruled last month, state party chair Robert Graham hailed the ruling.
“Ballot harvesting is a practice used by the Democrats and their leftist allies in Arizona that was rife with opportunity for manipulation and outright fraud,” Graham said in a statement.
Both parties have used ballot collection to boost turnout during elections by going door-to-door and asking voters if they have completed their mail-in ballot. If they have not, they urge them to do so and offer to return it to elections offices.
Democrats have used the method aggressively in minority communities and argue their success prompted the new GOP-sponsored law.
The lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, state Democratic Party and numerous voters alleged the law violated the federal Voting Rights Act. In their injunction request, they argued there has been a lengthy history of discrimination at the polls in Arizona and that the law was orchestrated to suppress voter turnout among Democratic voters.
Democrats are also appealing another ruling by Rayes that rejected their request to order election officials to count ballots cast by voters in the wrong precinct. They say the practice disparately affect minority voters. But Rayes said the state has a valid reason not to count such votes because different races are on ballots in different precincts and Democrats haven’t shown that minorities were affected more than white voters.