In a 6-3 decision split along ideological lines, the US Supreme Court upheld provisions of a restrictive Arizona voting law, stating that the provisions do not violate the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion.
The legal challenge focused on two provisions: “precinct-based election-day voting and early mail-in voting.” The first provision, also called out-of-precinct voting, refers to the ability for a voter to cast a provisional ballot at a precinct where he or she is not assigned. Out-of-precinct voting is prevented by Arizona law, which states that ballots cast at the wrong precinct must be discarded. The second provision, designed to prevent vote tampering, “makes it a crime for any person other than a postal worker, an elections official, or a voter’s caregiver, family member, or household member to knowingly collect an early ballot.”
Both provisions are upheld as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision.
The dissent, written by Justice Elena Kagan, outlines how Arizona’s voting restrictions make it more difficult for minorities to vote and thus are violative of the VRA. Key to the dispute is Section 2 of the VRA, which states that “[n]o voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
While the dissent viewed the VRA as an Act that should be read broadly in favor of eradicating any unreasonable voting restrictions, the majority’s interpretation focused on state interests. The new legal test is whether a voting rights law “reasonably pursue[s] important state interests.”
Critics of the decision, such as Sean Morales-Doyle, Deputy Director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, stated: “Today the Supreme Court made it much harder to challenge discriminatory voting laws in court. The justices stopped short of eviscerating the Voting Rights Act, but nevertheless did significant damage to this vital civil rights law and to the freedom to vote.”
Voting laws across the United States are being challenged in court after widespread accusations of voter fraud following the last presidential election. Mail-in ballots have faced increased scrutiny after mail-in voting increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic.