A Mohave County judge says the Arizona Contitution does not prevent the legislature from authorizing no-excuse absentee voting. (Photo by Courtney Pedroza | Getty Images)
The Arizona Republican Party’s efforts to prove that voting by mail is unconstitutional failed in a Mohave County court, but the decision is expected to be appealed.
Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen said Monday that the entire case came down to one question: Is the Arizona legislature prohibited by the Arizona Constitution from enacting voting laws that include no-excuse mail-in voting?
“The answer is no,” Jantzen wrote.
Party officials had argued that vote-by-mail violates the state constitution because it does not sufficiently guarantee “secrecy in voting,” and pointed out that the framers of the constitution always intended that voting would occur in person “at the polls.” Election officials and Democrats say there is plenty of protection of the secret ballot built into the system and argued that the drafters of the constitution gave the legislature broad power to specify the method of voting.
The ruling is viewed as a win for election officials across the state, who now won’t have to go into panic mode five months before the general election to replace the method of voting that 90% of the state’s voters opted to use in 2020. In a normal election cycle not clouded by a pandemic, that number is closer to 80%.
No-excuse voting by mail has been around in Arizona since 1991 and many of the people involved in arguing its unconstitutionality have voted by mail, public records show. That includes Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward and the attorney who brought the case, Alexander Kolodin.
The state Republican Party attempted to fast track the lawsuit to the Arizona Supreme Court, but the court said they must go through the proper channels, starting in lower courts and then appeal its way up. While this case wasn’t arguing widespread fraud in the 2020 election, the debunked theory that the election was stolen from Donald Trump was a clear motivator for the lawsuit.
Election officials and experts of both parties have said there is no evidence that vote-by-mail is rife with fraud, or even unusually prone to it.
Judge Jantzen also ruled against the GOP’s request for a preliminary injunction, which would have put a halt on mail ballots for the November election and resulted in potentially 3 million voters being forced to show up in person at their local polling places. Since ballots for the Aug. 2 primary were already printed, the lawsuit would have no bearing on that election.
Jantzen wrote in his 5-page ruling that while voting by mail has been around for 30 years, the system is still “far from perfect and nobody anticipated 30 years ago that approximately 90% of Arizona voters would vote by mail during a pandemic.”
But that doesn’t mean it’s unconstitutional, he added.
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