9th Circuit says extended voter registration deadline ends Thursday




Photo by Jim Small | Arizona Mirror

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked an extended voter registration deadline ordered by a federal district court judge, but will still give Arizonans until Thursday to register to vote in the November election.

A three-judge panel issued its ruling Tuesday night, rejecting two advocacy organizations’ claim that the Oct. 5 registration deadline set by state law is unconstitutional because of the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic hindered their registration efforts. U.S. District Court Judge Steven Logan agreed with that argument and ordered the state to extend the registration deadline to Oct. 23.

The judges agreed to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ request for a “grace period” that would allow registrations to continue temporarily, but said the five days she requested was too long. The 9th Circuit opted instead for a two-day period that will end on Thursday for those who still want to register in time to vote in the Nov. 3 general election.That will give some extra time to people who began the registration process with the expectation that the deadline would run through late October but haven’t yet completed it.

The judges rejected the argument that the Oct. 5 deadline violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution because the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent restrictions Gov. Doug Ducey put in place to limit the spread of the disease limited their voter registration efforts. 

Ducey’s restrictions were “more than amply justified” due to public health concerns, the justices said. And the deadline didn’t impose the severe burden claimed by the plaintiffs because there were six months after the governor’s March 30 restrictions during which the groups could register voters, an activity that was covered by Ducey’s exemption for constitutionally protected activities. 

While the restrictions made it more difficult for the groups to register voters, they were still able to do so online and through the mail, making in-person contact unnecessary, the judges wrote. 

“There may well be cases where a state election rule is so constitutionally problematic because of events such as a pandemic or natural disaster that a federal court must intervene, even shortly before an election. But this is not such a case,” the ruling read. 

Additionally, the judges wrote that the extended deadline ordered by Logan imposed a severe burden on county election offices, some of which, as Hobbs’ attorney noted during arguments before the 9th Circuit on Monday, have only a few employees to handle a variety of other election-related duties. 

Hobbs has a “sufficiently high likelihood of success,” which warrants a stay of the new voter registration deadline while the appeal plays out, the judges wrote.

Though new registrations will be cut off after Thursday, anyone who has registered since the Oct. 5 deadline expired will still be able to vote in the November election. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, more than 43,000 people registered to vote from Oct. 6 through Tuesday afternoon.

The Arizona Coalition for Change said it was disappointed in the ruling but celebrated the 10-day extension it won in the voter registration deadline and said it will spend the next two days registering people to vote.

“While we are disappointed in this ruling, we are proud that we stood up for the fundamental right to vote and that we won a ten-day extension of the voter registration deadline. As a result of this victory for our democracy, tens of thousands of more voters in Arizona will be able to participate in the upcoming November election,” the Arizona Coalition for Change said in a press statement.

Alexa-Rio Osaki, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Coalition for Change, said the group does not plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Shortly after the 9th Circuit handed down its ruling, the secretary of state urged people on Twitter to register to vote online to ensure their registration is processed by the Thursday deadline.

Hobbs initially opposed Mi Familia Vota and Arizona Coalition for Change’s request to extend the registration deadline, but decided not to appeal Logan’s ruling, saying another reversal in policy would be confusing. But after the Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich asked the 9th Circuit to overturn the ruling, Hobbs reversed course, arguing that the extended deadline created too much of a burden on county election officials who are processing mail-in ballots, overseeing early voting and verifying voter rolls.

Brnovich, Hobbs, the RNC and NRSC agreed that voters who already registered under the extended deadline should be permitted to vote in November, though all except for the secretary of state opposed the grace period that Hobbs sought.

Jeremy Duda
Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”