DENVER — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday to uphold two Arizona election laws that impose additional restrictions on voting.
The first law bans campaign workers, volunteers or others from collecting ballots and turning them in on someone else’s behalf. It’s a practice known as ballot harvesting. Arizona’s law does add exemptions for family members, caregivers and election officials.
Colorado allows someone else to collect and turn in up to 10 ballots and other states allow for similar practices to help voters that cannot make it to the ballot box in time for the election.
The second Arizona law calls for all ballots cast in the wrong precinct to be thrown out and not counted in the election (Colorado no longer has precinct voting).
“In some places there are actually rooms were multiple precincts vote. So, you could show up to a big gymnasium and there will be five different precincts voting. If you happen to get in the wrong line and cast your ballot, Arizona said they’re not going to count that,” said Doug Spencer, a visiting fellow at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s school of law.
Those multi-precinct voting centers tend to happen in urban areas that are disproportionately non-white communities, according to Spencer.
Arizona’s Democratic party believes the laws will have a disproportionate impact on communities of color and violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The laws passed years before the 2020 election and have been slowly making their way through the courts ever since being challenged.
In its 6-3 ruling, the Justices ruled that the laws do not violate the Voting Rights Act and can be upheld.
Spencer, who is also a law and public policy professor at the University of Connecticut, believes the ruling could have a far-reaching impact on voting laws across the country.
For one thing, he believes Thursday’s ruling significantly raises the bar on the amount of evidence that parties alleging voter discrimination will need to present in the future in order to win their lawsuits.
“Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio or other states that are passing these restrictive voting laws, even though those voting laws are far more restrictive than what we saw in Arizona, the way that the Supreme Court fashioned its opinion today will make it much more likely that those laws in other states will be upheld,” Spencer said.
The majority opinion relied heavily on voting laws from 1982, which was the last time Congress evaluated the language of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The ruling determined that it is okay for states to make voting rights as strict as they were in 1982. However, Spencer points out there was no widespread absentee voting at the time.
The majority opinion also spoke at length about the steps states are taking to try to prevent voter fraud, acknowledging that fraudulent votes could change the outcome of elections. On the other hand, voter access laws can also shape the electorate and affect the outcome of elections.
“Really I think all of the narrative at play is how did these rules shape who shows up to vote? It’s not about fraud and it’s not about suppression, but it’s about these partisan games to try to change rules to help them win the next election,” he said.
Spencer’s work was cited in the dissenting opinion of Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling. The article called on Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act before the courts make more rulings on it.
“As an academic, we write hoping that judges will read what we write and that we will have a shape on the law, so I’m very proud that the Supreme Court was aware of the things that I had written, but the ideas that I had were only able to garner three votes of support today,” Spencer said.
He doesn’t believe the ruling was particularly punitive or partisan but described it as an extremely narrow reading of the law.
Others were disappointed in the ruling, including Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who described the ruling at the latest attack on voting rights.
“The Supreme Court has not completely gutted the Voting Rights Act but significantly weakened it and it’s disappointing,” Griswold said. “What I am concerned about is that the Supreme Court ruling... number one, will potentially make it harder to challenge voter suppression bills that have passed across the nation, but also incentivizes the pushing of voter suppression bills.”
In the wake of the 2020 election, there have been roughly 400 bills introduced in 47 states dealing with voting restrictions, including a couple in Colorado that failed.
“What we are seeing across the country is really concerning. We are seeing a concerted effort by elected officials to try to make sure that some voters just don’t get to vote,” Griswold said. “This is a moment where the urgency to protect our democracy is at an all-time high.”
She’s calling on Congress to pass new voting rights laws to promote accessibility, saying many of the reforms being proposed are based off of Colorado voting laws.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers passed several new voting laws this past legislative session to add even more access to voting.
One of the new laws provides more multilingual ballot access to non-English speakers.
“Sometimes those of us who are fluent in English even have trouble understanding it. We’re going to be making it easier for them to understand what they’re voting on at the time they cast their ballots,” said Democratic Rep. Yadira Caraveo, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
House Bill 1011 sets up a hotline through the Secretary of State’s Office for some of the most common languages spoken in the state, such as Spanish. Voters will be able to call in to the hotline and speak with a translator to better understand what the various ballot initiatives mean.
“Colorado has stood out for a long time in making the ability to vote better, we’re continuing down that path and unfortunately some of the other 49 states in this country have taken a much different tact,” Caraveo said.
Caraveo is also disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision and says she wishes more states would turn to Colorado as a model for elections.
Spencer doesn’t believe that the Supreme Court decision will affect Colorado unless more restrictive voting measures are passed in the future.
For now, all eyes are on Congress to see whether they will try to pass new voting rights laws and whether they will address the latest Supreme Court ruling before the next election.