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Supreme Court Allows Arizona to Enforce ‘Ballot Harvesting’ Ban, But It May Not Matter

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to block Arizona from enforcing a law barring people from collecting ballots and delivering them to polling stations. Democrats say the decision will disenfranchise thousands. But local election officials have long said they wouldn't enforce the law, so it’s not clear if it will have a big impact on the ground.

In Arizona, voters who have received an early ballot can mail it back or drop it off at a polling location before 7 p.m. on Election Day. Democrats argued that minority voters relied on community groups collecting and delivering their ballots for them. The Republican Party of Arizona has fought to ban this practice, which they call "ballot harvesting," since 2013, claiming it put the state at risk for voter fraud.

A law, passed in March by a Republican-leaning legislature, set requirements for who can turn in a ballot on behalf of another voter. Only family members, roommates, caregivers, postal workers and election officials can do so. The law sets a penalty of up to a year in prison and a $150,000 fine for turning in a ballot on behalf of another person.

Democrats have been trying to overturn the law in the courts. They were successful at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which granted a preliminary injunction on enforcing it. While the Supreme Court’s decision removes the preliminary injunction, there is no evidence to suggest that election officials had begun to enforce the law. Several local election officials said that they have no plans to police ballot collection, and that they’ve been provided no detailed instruction for how to do so.

Prior to the August primary in the state, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell told the Arizona Republic her election workers would accept any ballots delivered to polling places.

“If somebody brings in ballots, there’s a box for them to put the ballots in. We’re going to process that ballot like we do anything else,” she said. “We are not the police.”

Pima County’s top election official, Brad Nelson, said much the same thing to the Arizona Daily Star. “We are not police,” he said. Like Purcell, he said he would not record the names of people handing in more than one ballot.

We’ve reached out to these officials and the Arizona Secretary of State’s office. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

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ProPublica’s Electionland project covers problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Our coalition of newsrooms around the country are investigating issues related to voter registration, pandemic-related changes to voting, the shift to vote-by-mail, cybersecurity, voter education, misinformation, and more.

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