WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Saturday issued an order allowing Arizona to enforce a law banning so-called ballot harvesting, in which others collect voters' completed absentee ballots and submit them to election officials. The court's two-sentence order stayed a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that would have temporarily blocked the law.
The justices gave no reasons for reviving the law, but the court often views last-minute changes to election procedures with disfavor.
Arizona allows voters to submit absentee ballots by mail or in person. The challenged law, enacted this year, barred letting others collect the ballots, with exceptions for family members and caregivers. According to officials in Arizona, there are similar laws in 26 other states and nearly identical ones in "14 other states that make mass ballot collection in some form a felony."
A Democratic group challenged the Arizona law, saying it placed an unlawful burden on the right to vote and disproportionately affected minority voters, notably Native Americans. A divided three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit refused to block the law, reasoning that it placed a minimal burden on the right to vote while advancing the state's interests in "preserving ballot secrecy and preventing undue influence, fraud, ballot tampering and voter intimidation."
In dissent, Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas said Arizona had "criminalized one of the most popular and effective methods by which minority voters cast their ballots." He said, for instance, that Native American voters in rural areas often did not have ready access to reliable transportation or to the postal system and so relied on ballot collectors.
The full 9th Circuit agreed to rehear the case, scheduling arguments in January. In the meantime, on Friday, it blocked the law by a 6-to-5 vote.
State officials and the Arizona Republican Party filed an emergency application for a stay in the Supreme Court, saying the 9th Circuit should not have acted so close to the election.
"At this late stage in an election cycle," their brief said, "emotions and rushed judgment typically have no place and should be strongly avoided."
In response, the challengers said that "thousands of voters have come to rely upon neighbors, friends, organizers, activists and campaigns to collect and hand-deliver their voted early ballots, to ensure that they safely arrive by 7 p.m. on Election Day, as required by Arizona law." They added that "there is not a shred of evidence linking ballot collection to voter fraud."