That election saw historic numbers of absentee ballots because of the pandemic — and a flood of unproven allegations of election fraud flowing from former President Donald Trump and his supporters.
The Democratic National Committee and civil rights groups told the justices in briefs in the case that siding with Arizona’s interpretation of the Voting Rights Act would “all but extinguish” the law and possibly would render the remaining key enforcement section “hopelessly ineffective” in combating new discriminatory election laws.
The Arizona officials, the state Republican Party and 19 largely Republican-led states told the justices that a ruling that strikes down Arizona’s ballot collection law would prohibit all election-related laws that disproportionately affect a racial group, even if that doesn’t mean there is an unequal opportunity to vote.
Arizona is one of about 20 states that limit ballot collection. The Grand Canyon State’s law allows only certain people to handle another person’s completed ballot, such as family, caregivers, mail carriers and elections officials.
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The Voting Rights Act prohibits any voting practice that “results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit looked specifically at the history of Arizona to rule that the ballot collection ban resulted in an unequal opportunity for Arizona’s minority voters, the Democratic National Committee wrote in its brief to the Supreme Court.
Many Native Americans, rural Latinos and minorities in high-density urban housing units face troubles with mail service, and there has not been evidence of fraud in the state, which was the purported reason for enacting the ban, according to the DNC.
“As a result, many voters — a disproportionate share of whom are minorities — have come to reply upon friends, neighbors, activists, and campaigns to collect and deliver their voted mail ballots,” the DNC brief states. “Ballot-collection assistance is particularly crucial in the final days before an election when it is too late to return ballots by mail.”
Ten Republican senators, led by Ted Cruz of Texas, filed a brief in the case arguing that a lower court’s interpretation of the Voting Rights Act in this case would “eviscerate scores of legitimate time, place, and manner voting laws that prevent and deter fraud.”
And, Cruz and the other senators told the justices, that interpretation would expand the scope of the Voting Rights Act beyond the constitutional powers of Congress, allowing it to be used to invalidate voting laws regulating absentee voting, precinct voting, early voting, voter identification, election observer zones, voter registration, durational residency and straight-ticket voting.
“These election-integrity provisions are entirely unlike the draconian, invidious voting restrictions the original VRA was designed to address,” the lawmaker brief states. “And they do not deny anyone an equal ‘opportunity’ to vote.”
The current case on Arizona’s ballot collection ban follows the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, which gutted a key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discriminatory voter laws to clear any new laws with the Justice Department.
The day after that Shelby County decision, the Republican-led legislature in North Carolina, which had been under those clearance requirements, passed a new voter identification law that a federal court later found targeted black voters “with surgical precision.”
ArLuther Lee of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this report.