Federal Court Rejects DNC Voting Rights Act Challenge to Arizona Rules About Counting Ballots Cast in Wrong Precinct, Prohibiting Most Collection of Absentee Ballots

You can find the 83-page opinion at this link.

Near the end of the opinion, the court rejects treating race as party proxy argument:

Based on the totality of the circumstances, Plaintiffs have not shown that the legislature enacted H.B. 2023 with the intent to suppress minority votes. Rather, some  individual legislators and proponents were motivated in part by partisan interests. Shooter, for example, first raised concerns about ballot collection after winning a close election. In addition to raising concerns about ballot collectors impersonating election workers, Johnson complained that ballot collection put candidates “who don’t have accessibility to large groups to go out and collect those ballots” at a disadvantage.

Likewise, Richard Hopkins, a proponent of the bill and a 2014 Republican candidate for the Arizona House of Representatives, claimed that he lost his election because of “ballot harvesting.” (Ex. 17 at 17, 45-49.) In opposing ballot collection restrictions, Democratic Senator Steve Farley stated “[t]he problem we’re solving is that one party is better at collecting ballots than the other one.” (Ex. 25 at 35.)

But partisan motives are not necessarily racial in nature, even though racially polarized voting can sometimes blur the lines. Importantly, both the Fifteenth Amendment and § 2 of the VRA—upon which Plaintiffs’ intentional discrimination claims are based—address racial discrimination, not partisan discrimination. That some legislators and proponents harbored partisan interests, rather than racially discriminatory motives, is consistent with Arizona’s history of advancing partisan objectives with the unintended consequence of ignoring minority interests. (Ex. 90 at 8.)

Moreover, partisan motives did not permeate the entire legislative process. Instead, many proponents acted to advance facially important interests in bringing early mail ballot security in line with in-person voting security, notwithstanding the lack of direct evidence that ballot collection fraud was occurring. Though Plaintiffs might disagree with the manner in which the legislature chose to address its concerns about early ballot security, “the propriety of doing so is perfectly clear,” and the legislature need not wait until a problem occurs to take proactive steps it deems appropriate. Crawford, 553 U.S. at 196; see also Lee, 188 F. Supp. 3d at 609.

The Court therefore finds that the legislature that enacted H.B. 2023 was not motivated by a desire to suppress minority voters. The legislature was motivated by a misinformed belief that ballot collection fraud was occurring, but a sincere belief that mail-in ballots lacked adequate prophylactic safeguards as compared to in-person voting. Some proponents also harbored partisan motives. But, in the end, the legislature acted in spite of opponents’ concerns that the law would prohibit an effective GOTV strategy in low-efficacy minority communities, not because it intended to suppress those votes.

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