The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Arizona laws against out-of-precinct voting and submitting ballots on behalf of others.
It was a setback for the Democratic National Committee, which argued the laws unfairly impacted minority voters. A divided appeals panel, however, said the laws imposed "only a minimal burden on voters."
It was much worse than that, said the dissent in The Democratic National Committee v. Reagan. The lone appellate judge said the only purpose of the laws was to discriminate against minorities.
Affirming a trial court decision, the Ninth Circuit said Arizona has long required in-person voters to cast their ballots in their assigned precinct. The state has enforced the system since at least 1970.
In 2016, the state enacted H.B. 2023 to make it a felony for a person to collect another's ballot. The DNC then challenged the laws, saying they harmed minorities who often voted out-of-precinct and turned in their ballots to organizers at get-out-the-vote campaigns.
After a ten-day bench trial, Judge Douglas L. Rayes said minority voters were not not deprived of an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. He also found no discriminatory intent in the laws.
The Ninth Circuit agreed -- except for Judge Sidney Thomas.
Thomas assailed Arizona's "labyrinthian system," saying it could easily confuse voters about polling places. He said Hispanic, Native American and black voters were twice as likely to vote out of precinct.
"There is no question that Arizona's practice of discarding OOP ballots is also a practice of disproportionately discarding ballots cast by minority voters," he wrote.