PHOENIX — Arizonans will be given another 2½ weeks to sign up to vote in the upcoming election — unless Republicans get their say.
In a ruling late Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Steven Logan said the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on travel and gathering imposed by Gov. Doug Ducey made it difficult for some groups to fulfill their goals of getting more people to register to vote. He said that, at least for this year, Monday’s deadline does not apply.
Instead, he is directing the state’s 15 county recorders to accept all voter registration applications received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 23.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs will not appeal the decision.
“We need to give the voters clarity,’’ said aide Murphy Hebert. “We don’t want to prolong this.’’
But Kory Langhofer already has filed a notice of appeal.
Langhofer represents the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Logan had given them permission to intercede in the case.
Langhofer contends that Mi Familia Vota and the Arizona Coalition for Change waited too long — until Sept. 29 — before filing suit. That is based on Supreme Court precedents, going back more than a decade, which frown on making changes in the process so close to an election.
Langhofer also argues that the challengers have known for months that the pandemic and the Ducey-imposed restrictions had cut into their ability to sign up new voters. That delay alone, he said, is reason to toss the case.
All that could be undermined by Hobbs declining not to appeal, effectively saying the state can live with the decision and the extended registration deadline.
In the meantime, the registration process that was supposed to end Monday night continues. Even if a higher court ultimately were to overturn the ruling and the extended registration deadline, it likely would order that any people who signed up in the interim should be allowed to vote.
During the hearing Monday, Kara Karlson who represents Hobbs, argued that moving the registration deadline closer to the election would create problems. She pointed out that early ballots go out Wednesday and, presumably, start to come back to county offices soon after.
Anyway, Karlson said, this deadline has been on the books the past 30 years.
Logan brushed that aside, questioning whether the cutoff of 29 days before the election, one of the longest in the country, was “antiquated.’’
“The court takes note that 31 other states have later voter deadlines than Arizona,’’ he said. Logan noted some states allow people to register right up to election day.
Langhofer had no better luck with his arguments to Logan that face-to-face voter registration isn’t the only way people can sign up.
“Perhaps most importantly in this era of public health exigencies, physical contact is not a prerequisite to attaining qualified elector status in Arizona,’’ Langhofer said. “Any individual possessing a computer, smartphone or postage stamp may register to vote in a matter of minutes without leaving her home or risking exposure to COVID-19 pathogens.’’
Logan was not impressed.
“This court acknowledges the efforts made by the secretary and the state to make voter registration easier,’’ he wrote.
“The court is also cognizant of the large population of Arizona that lacks access to the internet,’’ Logan continued. “Registering to vote has never been easier for some, though others are not so fortunate.’’
The judge said he was convinced by arguments by Zoe Salzman, who pointed out how successful the efforts of her clients to get people signed up had been— at least until March when the pandemic and the governor’s orders changed everything.
Logan said the challengers were registering about 1,523 voters a week before the pandemic; that figure dropped to 282 a week during the restrictions.
Salzman told the judge that once those restrictions were lifted the number of new registrations returned to pre-COVID levels. She said if he granted an extra three weeks — she had asked for an Oct. 27 cutoff — the challengers would be able to register another 25,000 voters.
Logan said that means the additional burden on the state and the recorders of extending the registration deadline is outweighed by the effect of those who would be hurt by leaving it in place.
“The harm suffered is loss of possibly tens of thousands of voter registrations,’’ the judge said, along with interfering with the constitutional rights of the challengers to organize voters. “Plaintiffs’ interests outweigh those of the government.’’
Logan also said there was a valid reason for Salzman and her clients to wait until Sept. 29 before filing suit. He said they needed the voter registration data from September — after the restrictions were lifted — to make their case to show it is now easier than before to register people and provide the estimates of how many more they could sign up if given additional time.
Logan also was not buying Karlson’s argument that this last-minute change in the long-known deadline to register will cause confusion.
“Voters who are already registered will not need to bother with the new deadline,’’ he wrote. “And those voters that were unable to register before Oct. 5 now have extra time.’’