The United States Supreme Court ruled, Thursday, that two “Republican-backed ballot restrictions” in the state of Arizona do not violate the Voter Rights Act of 1965, opening the door for voter restriction measures nationwide, and spelling trouble for the Department of Justice’s lawsuit, announced earlier this week, challenging new measures just passed in Georgia.
“The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday endorsed two Republican-backed ballot restrictions in Arizona that a lower court found had disproportionately burdened Black, Latino, and Native American voters, handing a defeat to voting rights advocates and Democrats who had challenged the measures,” Reuters reported. “The 6-3 ruling, with the court’s conservative justices in the majority, held that the restrictions on early ballot collection by third parties and where absentee ballots may be cast did not violate the Voting Rights Act, a landmark 1965 federal law that prohibits racial discrimination in voting.”
Notably, the “three liberal justices” dissented from the decision, while the court’s six conservative and moderate judges sided with Arizona’s plan to rein in the state’s expansive early and absentee voting rules.
Reuters noted that the ruling comes at a time when Republican governors are pressing for greater voter restrictions, pushing back against liberalizing early and absentee voting rules in many states that greatly expand the period of time in which ballots may be cast ahead of election day, and that liberalize the conditions under which state residents may vote absentee.
“The case involves a 2016 Arizona law that made it a crime to provide another person’s completed early ballot to election officials, with the exception of family members or caregivers. Community activists sometimes engage in ballot collection to facilitate voting and increase voter turnout. Ballot collection is legal in most states, with varying limitations. Republican critics call the practice ‘ballot harvesting,'” per Reuters. “The other restriction at issue was a longstanding Arizona policy that discards ballots cast in-person at a precinct other than the one to which a voter has been assigned. In some places, voters’ precincts are not the closest one to their home.”
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority made clear that, despite these restrictions, voting remained “equally open” to all of Arizona’s eligible and registered voters. “Mere inconvenience,” he said, “cannot be enough to demonstrate” a Constitutional violation.
Alito and the majority declined, however, to create a bright-line rule governing which voter restrictions fell within Constitutional purview.
“[W]e think it prudent to make clear at the beginning that we decline in these cases to announce a test to govern all VRA §2 claims involving rules, like those at issue here, that specify the time, place, or manner for casting ballots,” he wrote.
The case, however, will likely have consequences for the Department of Justice’s lawsuit in Georgia, which, as the Daily Wire reported, “alleges that recent changes to Georgia’s election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”
Those laws in Georgia mandate that a voter must be in line to vote by the official poll closing time of 7 pm, and restrict electioneering at the polls. Because those laws do not necessarily abridge the right to vote for eligible and registered Georgia voters, the DOJ’s lawsuit may run afoul of Thursday’s ruling.
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