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8:04 PM Thu, Nov. 15th

Arizona in legal battle over ‘ballot harvesting’

PHOENIX – Conceding there’s no evidence of fraud, an attorney for the state asked a federal judge Wednesday to allow enforcement of a new law making “ballot harvesting’’ a felony.

But James Driscoll-MacEachron told U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes that lack of evidence is legally irrelevant. He said the Republican-controlled Legislature was entitled to approve HB 2023 to keep it from happening.

“It assist in preventing voter fraud and preserving the integrity of elections,’’ Driscoll-MacEachron argued. He said limiting who can handle ballots ensures there will be no tampering.

Rayes, however, expressed some concern why, after years of people being sent early ballots – and years of people being able to return the ballots of others without a single instance of fraud -- this law criminalizing that practice is necessary.

Driscoll-MacEachron said the issue is the risk that fraud might occur in the future. Still, the judge questioned why this law, given there already are state laws making it a crime to tamper with or throw out someone else’s ballot.

“It makes sure we know where the ballots are,’’ the attorney responded. “This law serves a state interest.’’

Sara Jane Agne, representing the Arizona Republican Party which has intervened to help defend the law, echoed to Rayes that lawmakers are entitled to act to prevent fraud before it occurs.

“You need not wait until someone breaks into your house before putting a lock on the door,’’ she said.

The law makes it a felony, punishable by a year in state prison, for someone to take a voted ballot, even in a sealed envelope, and drop it off at a polling place. There are exceptions for family members, caregivers, election workers and postal workers.

Proponents contend the practice is an invitation to fraud. But the question of whether Rayes blocks the law from taking effect as scheduled on Saturday could turn on a different issue.

The lawsuit filed by the state and national Democratic parties, the Clinton campaign and others revolves around the contention that the law illegally imposes a higher burden on minorities than the population at large.