PHOENIX — Time is running out for those who want to vote in next month's election.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has voided a trial judge's order that gave Arizonans through Oct. 23 to get registered. Now, Thursday is the last day to sign up.
But the order is less than clear about exactly when new registrations are cut off, whether that means the close of business or 11:59 p.m. An aide to Hobbs said Wednesday she is presuming the court meant the latter and is advising counties to honor anything that comes in before midnight.
There is an instantaneous option for online registration for those who already have a state-issued driver's license or identification card. But that still leaves those who need to submit an actual paper request.
All this became necessary as the appellate panel slapped down U.S. District Court Judge Steven Logan for voiding the state's statutory deadline of 29 days before the election. This year that was Oct. 5.
Logan instead accepted arguments by Mi Familia Vota and the Arizona Coalition for Change that the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on travel, businesses and public gatherings imposed in March by Gov. Doug Ducey made it difficult to sign up voters. He figured an extra 2½ weeks would help compensate for that.
The appellate judges disagreed.
"The district court's order was an obvious abuse of discretion,'' they wrote.
But two of the judges said it makes no sense to compound the problem by immediately halting all new registrations. Instead, they left the door open through Thursday.
That order also says that anyone who registered after Oct. 5 — as Logan allowed — will get to keep their right to vote on Nov. 3 despite missing the original deadline. The only requirement is that their registration forms must reach county election offices by that Thursday night deadline.
So far, according to data compiled Tuesday by Hobbs' office, there were 26,652 new names added to the registration list since Oct. 5. That includes 8,317 Republicans, 6,237 Democrats, 393 Libertarians and 11,705 not affiliated with any recognized political party.
On top of that, another 74,035 people used the window of opportunity to update their registrations. That can include changing parties and updating addresses.
Only Judge Jay Bybee dissented, saying that those who registered after the statutory Oct. 5 deadline should not be allowed to cast a ballot for the general election. But the majority said that an immediate and retroactive halt would only further complicate matters, forcing election officials to undo the registrations that already have come in the door.
The whole appellate process had some fits and starts.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who opposed the extension request when the case was heard by Logan, initially decided not to appeal and leave his new Oct. 23 deadline in place.
But Hobbs changed her mind after the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee filed their own appeal. Their attorney, Kory Langhofer, asked the appellate judges not only to overturn Logan's order but to do it retroactively, effectively voiding the registrations of anyone who had signed up in the interim.
Hobbs also conceded that she was pressured by the county election officials who were the ones that would have to be doing the additional work of continuing to process new registrations even as they were starting to receive and tabulate early ballots. She said their concerns were never addressed in Logan's court because they were not named as defendants in the lawsuit.