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Supreme Court upholds electoral restrictions in Arizona

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the Arizona election restrictions and signaled that challenges to new state laws making voting difficult would be hostile by a majority of judges.

The vote was 6 to 3, with the three Liberal members of the court disagreeing.

The decision was the court’s first examination of how a substantial part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 applies to voting restrictions that have a disproportionate impact on members of minority groups, and was made when disputes over voting rights were at the heart of American politics.

As Republican-controlled legislatures increasingly seek to introduce restrictive new electoral rules, Democrats and civil rights groups have turned to the courts to argue that Republicans are trying to stifle the vote, thwart the will of the majority, and give minority voters equal access to refuse. The decision indicated that the Supreme Court would not be inclined to overturn many of the measures.

The bigger message of the ruling was that the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was hampered after the Supreme Court’s effective deletion of the central provision in 2013, retains limited powers to combat electoral restrictions that affect minority voters’ access to elections disproportionately affect.

The 2013 Shelby County v Holder ruling concerned Section 5 of the law, which required prior federal approval for changes in electoral process in parts of the country with a history of racial and other discrimination. But the majority opinion of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is that Section 2 of the law would remain in effect to protect voting rights by allowing litigation to take place after the fact.

While Section 5 was available, Section 2 was mainly used in redistribution cases where the question was whether minority voting cards had unduly diluted minority voting rights. Its role in examining restrictions on refusal to vote itself has received much less attention.

The new Brnovich v Democratic National Committee case, No. 19-1257, concerned two types of electoral restrictions in Arizona. One asked election officials to discard ballot papers cast in the wrong constituency. The other made it a crime for campaign workers, community activists, and most other people to collect ballots for delivery to polling stations, a practice that critics call “ballot picking.” The law made exceptions for family members, carers and election officials.

The bigger battle in this case wasn’t whether the particularly challenged restrictions were to survive. For example, the Biden administration wrote to judges in an unusual letter telling them that Arizona’s measures did not violate Section 2. But the letter denied the Trump administration’s interpretation of Section 2, which would allow its availability to examine the legality of all types of. would have restricted voting restrictions.

Section 2 prohibits any voting process that “results in the denial or restriction of a United States citizen’s right to vote on the basis of race.” This is the case, it is said, when racial minorities “because of the totality of the circumstances have less opportunity than other voters to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice”.

The Arizona case was filed by the Democratic National Committee in 2016. Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth District in San Francisco ruled that both Arizona restrictions violate Section 2 because they disproportionately disadvantage minority voters.

In 2016, black, Latin American, and Native American voters were about twice as likely to cast in the wrong district as white voters, wrote Judge William A. Fletcher for the majority in the 7-4 decision. Among the reasons for this, he said, are “frequent changes of polling stations; confusing placement of polling stations; and high residential mobility rates. “

Similarly, he wrote, the ban on ballot collectors has had an overwhelming effect on minority voters, who use ballot collection much more often than white voters because they are more likely to be poor, elderly, house-bound or disabled; there is a lack of reliable transport, childcare and postal services; and need help understanding the voting rules.

Judge Fletcher added that “there is no evidence of fraud in the long history of third party ballot collection in Arizona.”

In contradiction to this, four judges wrote that the restrictions imposed by the state were commonplace, supported by common sense, and applied neutrally to all voters.

Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain wrote that lawmakers are entitled to try to prevent possible fraud. “Given his interest in addressing his legitimate concerns about electoral fraud,” he wrote, “Arizona was free to take prophylactic measures even though no evidence of actual electoral fraud was presented to lawmakers.”

The appeals court suspended its decision and the restrictions were in effect for the November election last year.

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