Ninth Circuit panel finds Arizona’s election-day deadline to cure mail-in ballots lacking signatures passes constitutional scrutiny

Mail-in ballots in Arizona must be returned with the voter’s signature on the outer envelope. If there is a missing signature, voters may correct it by submitting a signed replacement ballot by election day. A district court concluded that this was a “minimal” burden under the Anderson-Burdick framework but that Arizona had insufficient justifications for this deadline, and that signature cures should be allowed after Election Day.

In Arizona Democratic Party v. Hobbs, however, the Ninth Circuit, in a 2-1 panel decision, concluded that the district court erred. It found that the deadline was justified by the state’s rational interests in election administration.

Judge Susan Graber’s opinion emphasizes that Arizona has had such a law for nearly 100 years, that requiring a signature with an election-day deadline was a minimal burden, and that alleviating election officials’ burdens in the days after an election. The dissenting opinion penned by Judge A. Wallace Tashima, in contrast, pointed to the fact that Arizona allows mismatched signatures to be cured up to five days after an election, but that missing signatures must be cured by Election Day, and it went on to find that the law was not justified by any state interest. Judge Graber countered that there are materially different burdens on local election officials for curing mismatched ballots as opposed to ballots lacking a signature.

Many details to consider in the opinion: the nuances of election administration, the travails of Arizona law, and a conflict between the Arizona Secretary of State and the Arizona Attorney General in the interpretation of the election code.

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