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Bob Christie

Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a 2016 Arizona law barring anyone but a family member or caregiver from returning another person's early ballot will remain in effect while the state appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The order from the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals means the law banning so-called "ballot harvesting" will remain in force through the March 17 presidential preference election. Only Democrats are voting in that election after the Republican Party chose to forego a primary. 

The Native American Rights Fund has argued that Native voters often rely on community members to collect their ballots as a way to protect their fundamental right to vote.

"Native voters, especially tribal elders, often lack reliable transportation and reside in geographically remote areas in which they rely upon friends and neighbors to pick up and return their mail," the rights fund said. "Widespread use of non-traditional mailing addresses often requires drives to post offices that take several hours to get their voting materials and ballots."

The appeals court last month found the law and and a separate practice of throwing out ballots if a voter went to the wrong precinct have discriminatory effects on minority voters. The ruling also said the ballot harvesting ban was enacted with discriminatory intent.

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State Attorney General Mark Brnovich plans to ask the high court to overturn the decision.

The Supreme Court in 2016 refused to block the ballot harvesting law, overturning the 9th Circuit. The case has since had a trial where a judge ruled the law was legal, and a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit also found the law was properly enacted. 

The ruling Tuesday by the 9th Circuit came in response to a lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and state Democratic Party.

The ballot harvesting law made it a felony to return someone else's ballot to election officials in most cases. Republicans pushed the legislation through the Legislature over objections of Democrats, arguing that so-called "ballot harvesting" can lead to election fraud. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed it, saying it would ensure a chain of custody between the voter and the ballot box. 

The stay issued Tuesday by the appeals court will stay in place at least 90 days. 


Indian Country Today contributed to this story.