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Judge orders Arizona to extend voter registration to Oct. 23

Deadline had been set for midnight Monday

Voters in Arizona will have almost another three weeks for sign up to cast ballots after a federal judge ordered the state to push back a registration deadline that was set for Monday at midnight, citing the difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, voters will have until 5 p.m. on October 23 to sign up to cast ballots in the November 3 election. The first wave of Arizona's early ballots will be mailed out this Wednesday, to voters who have already requested them. 

U.S. District Judge Steven P. Logan found in favor of Mi Familia Vota and the Arizona Coalition for Change, two activist groups that have worked to register new voters, in ruling that the coronavirus outbreak has caused a "severe burden" to signing up people to the voting rolls.

Citing the "loss of possibly tens of thousands of voter registrations," Logan ordered state officials to keep voter registration open for another three weeks.

Read the judge's complete ruling

The judge ruled that "voter confusion will be minimal," because "voters who are already registered will not need to bother with the new deadline, and those voters that were unable to register before October 5, 2020 now have extra time."

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, an elected Democrat, said Monday that she would not appeal the decision, despite having argued in court in favor of upholding the statutory deadline.

"With the general election less than a month away, Arizonans deserve a quick resolution to this matter," Hobbs said. "Providing clarity is more important than pursuing this litigation."

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Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing against moving the date, and two GOP organizations — the Republican National Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee — filed to intervene in the case to argue against extending the deadline to sign up voters.

Those Republican groups indicated that they would appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit Court, although most of the issues decided were not raised in the arguments they made before the judge.

Because the last day to request an early ballot is October 23, the judge set the new registration deadline on that date, acknowledging the concerns of state officials that dealing with new registrants who want to cast mail-in ballots after that point would raise logistical issues. "Those voters may not receive or return their ballots in time to be counted," the judge cited state authorities as holding.

Mi Familia Vota and the others who filed suit had asked the judge to extend the deadline to October 27.

The judge noted that a legal doctrine holding that elections rules should not be changed "one the eve of an election" does not apply to the extension of deadlines, "because the requested remedy is 'asking (election) officials to continue applying the same procedures they now have in place, but for a little longer."

The plaintiffs argued that voter registration has not grown proportionally to the increase in state residents, despite the large number of people who have already registered, the judge found.

"This is a huge victory for democracy," says Flavio Bravo of Mi Familia Vota. "With this court-ordered relief, thousands of more voters will be able to register to vote in the midst of this pandemic and will be able to participate in the November 2020 election."

The groups argued that because of the stay-at-home orders issued this spring by Ducey, they were prevented from effectively signing up new voters, because in-person contacts were so limited.

The case was filed last week, and Logan, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014, held oral arguments on the case on Monday. His short ruling was released Monday night, ordering that all voter registration applications received by 5 p.m. on October 23 be processed in time for eligible voters to cast ballots in the election.

"Voter confusion undermines public trust in the electoral process, and it is highly important that Defendant retains a sense of integrity in its procedures. However, a core tenet of democracy is to be ruled by a government that represents the population," he wrote. "Due to COVID-19, a portion of the population is prevented from registering to vote, and thus the integrity of the election is undermined in a different way; that portion is going unrepresented. Extending the deadline would give more time for those voters to register and let their voices be heard through the democratic process."

"Registering to vote has never been easier for some, though others are not so fortunate. Ballot access is an extremely important right, and it has been restricted during this unprecedented time," the judge wrote, noting that while state officials had pointed to the ease of signing up online, not everyone has reliable Internet access.

Hobbs had argued that county election officials would be burdened by having to handle new registrations and send out early ballots at the same time, calling the state's system "a delicate framework that has been refined to accurately process millions of votes in a safe, secure, and efficient manner."

The state's top election official said Monday night that people should not wait until the extended deadline nears to register to vote.

"I urge anyone who still needs to register to vote or update their registration to do so as soon as possible. Do not wait," Hobbs said.

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