FILE - Election 2020 Arizona

A voter drops off a ballot for the Arizona Democratic presidential preference election Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Phoenix.

(The Center Square) – The fate of more than 15,000 Arizona residents who registered to vote after the state’s deadline is under consideration by a federal panel of judges.

Attorneys representing the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Republican National Committee asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday to reverse a lower court’s ruling that extended Arizona’s registration deadline to Oct 23 from Oct. 3.

The initial complaint was filed on Sept. 30 by advocacy groups Mi Familia Vota and Arizona Coalition for Change, and resident Ulises Ventura, saying the pandemic has hurt the organizations’ efforts to register people to vote in the November election. Their lawyer argued that the pandemic provided underlying circumstances that made changing the deadline appropriate.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs opposes the extension, saying holding an in-person election would be impeded if voters were still being registered up until just days before polls open, possibly delaying election results. 

“If a voter shows up at a poll and their names are not on the roster, the confusion and ultimate administrative burden for having that person have to file a provisional ballot mean they will not get a regular ballot which will result in further work and time that the administrators have to spend,” said Roopali Desai, an attorney representing Hobbs.

Judges took particular interest in Arizona’s deadline to register one month before Election Day to vote in that election.

“It’s wonderful that the groups went out and registered a whole bunch more people,” Judge Jay Bybee said. “They’re going to do their civic duty and vote in future elections, but they’re not eligible to vote in 2020.”

The panel pressured the nonprofits’ attorney as to why his clients decided to bring the complaint just weeks before the election. 

“You really put everybody in a bad position here,” said Judge Marsha S. Berzon, a Clinton appointee.

The attorney for the Republican National Committee, Kory Langhofer, said it was COVID-19, not a state law, that harmed registration efforts of the political groups. 

“This lawsuit was filed too late,” he said. “It was filed against the wrong parties and, ultimately, it alleges an injury that arises due to COVID and not the deadline.”

Attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff argued that his clients should not be denied the right to register voters due to a state law since the First Amendment supersedes state law.  

“With or without the injunctions, the defendant will still have to process registrations; the question is that, will the people who register in this situation will be able to vote,” he said.

Many states allow for same-day registration. Brinckerhoff said more than 15,000 voters registered the day after the injunction was granted.

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois and Arizona government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Central Illinois and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.