PHOENIX (AP) — A federal appeals court panel rejected a challenge Wednesday night to an Arizona election law that throws out ballots cast by voters who go to the wrong precinct.
The 2-1 opinion from a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel turned away a legal challenge mounted by Democrats. Lawyers representing the state and national Democratic parties said Arizona throws out more out-of-precinct ballots than any other state and that minorities are more likely to be affected.
A federal judge in Phoenix rejected the challenge last month, ruling that the state has a valid reason not to count such votes because different races are on ballots in different precincts. The judge also said that Democrats haven't shown that minorities were affected more than white voters.
Democrats appealed, and two of the appeals court judges agreed with the lower court and rejected the challenge, which cited Voting Rights Act and Constitutional violations.
"We find that the precinct vote rule, as administered by Arizona, probably does not impermissibly burden minority voters by giving them less opportunity than non-minorities to participate in the political process," Circuit Court Judge Carlos Bea wrote. "Similarly, the district court correctly found that the constitutional violation claims failed because the precinct vote rule, when considered together with other options available to Arizona voters, imposes only a minimal burden upon minority and majority voters."
Chief Appeals Court Judge Sidney Thomas dissented, saying evidence shows the practice "disproportionately and adversely impacts minority voters."
"Voting should be easy in America," Thomas wrote. "In Arizona, it is not, and the burden falls heaviest on minority voters."
In Arizona, voters must go to their assigned precinct if they vote in person. If they don't, their ballots are rejected. There are early voting and vote-by-mail options available that don't require ballots be cast at the assigned precinct.
The challenge is one of three brought by Democrats currently before federal courts that contest Arizona's laws or election practices.
The same three-judge panel rejected a challenge to a new Arizona law criminalizing the collection of early ballots by get-out-the-vote groups last week. However, the full 9th Circuit voted Wednesday to review that decision.
A federal judge in Phoenix is considering a challenge to the state's decision not to extend voter registration by a day last month because it fell on a state and federal holiday.
A separate Democratic challenge to plans by some Republicans to send volunteer poll-watchers out on Election Day is set for a federal court hearing in Phoenix on Friday.