Ballot harvesting still illegal, county attorney says

By: 
Guest Commentary, Bill Montgomery

Bill Montgomery
Maricopa County Attorney

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery released a statement earlier this month reminding residents that ballot harvesting is illegal and anyone caught engaging in ballot harvesting could face a Class 6 felony.
Ballot harvesting occurs when a non-authorized person collects others’ early ballots.
“It has come to my attention that there may be some confusion about the intention to enforce the election laws in Arizona,” Montgomery said. “I want to assure anyone who may be planning to engage in ballot harvesting for this primary election and general election that it is a Class 6 felony to knowingly collect a mail-in ballot for the primary election in August, or for the general election in November, unless you are a family member, household member, or caregiver for the voter to whom the ballot was issued. Based on its concerns about the potential for fraud and misconduct affecting our elections, the Arizona state Legislature passed this law in order to protect the integrity of Arizona elections. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is committed to protecting our voting process by enforcing this law. If you are not authorized by the statute to take possession of another voter’s ballot, instruct the voter personally to place their ballot in the mail, to deliver the ballot in person, or to vote in person.”
House Bill 2023, signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey in March 2016, amended Arizona Revised Statutes 16-1005 to include the following text:
A person who knowingly collects voted or unvoted early ballots from another person is guilty of a Class 6 felony. An election official, a United States postal service worker or any other person who is allowed by law to transmit United States mail is deemed not to have collected an early ballot if the official, worker or other person is engaged in official duties. Subsection H of this section does not apply to: An election held by a special taxing district formed pursuant to Title 48 for the purpose of protecting or providing services to agricultural lands or crops and that is authorized to conduct elections pursuant to Title 48. 2. A family member, household member or caregiver of the voter. For the purposes of this paragraph: “Caregiver” means a person who provides medical or health care assistance to the voter in a residence, nursing care institution, hospice facility, assisted living center, assisted living facility, assisted living home, residential care institution, adult day health care facility or adult foster care home. “Collects” means to gain possession or control of an early ballot. “Family member” means a person who is related to the voter by blood, marriage, adoption or legal guardianship. “Household member” means a person who resides at the same residence as the voter.
Proponents say the law prevents voter fraud. Opponents say it disenfranchises voters, especially minorities, such as members of large Indian reservations who have no home mail delivery and live far from polling locations.
The law went into effect in August 2016, but not before Democrats in April of that year challenged it, claiming it violated the federal Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. A federal district court in September rejected their request to block the law temporarily, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Oct. 28, 2016, affirmed that ruling. But the following month, the en banc Ninth Circuit reversed the three-judge panel and put the law on hold. En banc means “in full court.” In the Ninth Circuit’s case, an en banc session consists of 11 of its 29 judges. That same month, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office filed a motion to the Supreme Court to stay the en banc decision, which was granted, allowing the law go into effect for the November 2016 election.
Proceedings resumed in October 2017 and U.S. District Judge Douglas Rayes in May of this year upheld the law.
Following Rayes’ ruling, H.B. 2023 sponsor Michelle Ugenti-Rita tweeted: “Great News, my bill, HB2023 is upheld!! Yesterday District Court Judge Douglas Rayes issued his decision in the Feldman v. Arizona ballot harvesting case, and he ruled in favor of the state and against the plaintiffs on all claims.”
Rayes’ ruling has since been appealed and the case is back before the Ninth Circuit Court with a decision expected in the coming months.

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