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Supreme Court hears challenges to two Arizona election laws

State legislatures across the country are trying to rewrite election laws after the contentious 2020 election. And as John Yang reports, a U.S. Supreme Court case argued Tuesday will determine how courts will assess those new laws.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    State legislatures across the country are trying to rewrite election laws after the contentious 2020 election.

    And, as John Yang reports, a Supreme Court case argued today will determine how courts assess those new laws.

  • Protesters:

    We love Trump!

  • John Yang:

    Last November, Arizona was a battleground in the presidential race.

  • Protesters:

    Count the legal votes!

  • John Yang:

    Its narrow backing of President Biden was the first time the state had gone Democratic in 24 years. Today, it was again a battleground, as the Supreme Court heard a challenge to two Arizona election laws.

    Last year, a federal appeals court struck down both of them as violating the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against minority voters. One provision throws out ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

  • Tammy Patrick:

    It's often been referred to as the right church, wrong pew.

  • John Yang:

    Tammy Patrick of the nonpartisan Democracy Fund was an election official in Arizona's Maricopa County, the largest in the state.

  • Tammy Patrick:

    So, you will have multiple precincts in a school gymnasium. If you get in the wrong line, you're not going to be on the rolls, you're going to get a different ballot than potentially the one that you would have received in your home precinct.

  • John Yang:

    Patrick found that, in the 2012 election, a higher percentage of Maricopa County voters affected by the law were Hispanic.

    The other challenged law makes it a crime for anyone other than a family member or caregiver to deliver a voters' mail-in ballot. Critics call the practice of campaign workers or community activists collecting ballots ballot harvesting.

    It was among the practices President Trump railed against last year.

  • Donald Trump:

    There's such fraud and abuse. And you know about harvesting, where they harvest the ballots and they go and grab them and they go to people's houses and they say, sign here. No.

  • John Yang:

    In fact, election experts say there is little evidence that the practice leads to fraud.

    In Arizona, most voters cast mail-in ballots, but many Native Americans and ranch workers don't have mail delivery services at their homes.

  • Tammy Patrick:

    Needing to go into town in order to mail your ballot can be a problem. But if you can give it to your neighbor across the street or the next Hogan in Monument Valley to take in for you, that's incredibly helpful.

  • John Yang:

    Today's telephone oral arguments turned on what standard the court should apply to determine whether election laws discriminate.

    The laws' supporters say the only question should be whether they limit minority voters' opportunities to cast a ballot. Chief Justice John Roberts pressed Arizona Republican Party attorney Michael Carvin.

  • Justice John Roberts:

    Is it maximizing participation or equalizing it? In other words, that only comes up when you have disparate results. And why should there be disparate results, if you can avoid them?

  • Michael Carvin:

    Because it would eliminate all valuable anti-fraud concerns implicated in the ban on ballot harvesting. The question is not, what's wrong with it?

    The question is why a system that imposes no unfairness on the group should nonetheless be changed simply because they find a different method of voting more convenient?

  • John Yang:

    Opponents say the question is whether the laws result in lower minority voter participation. Justice Samuel Alito asked whether that was too broad.

  • Justice Samuel Alito:

    What concerns me is that your position is going to make every voting rule vulnerable to attack. People who are poor and less well-educated, on balance, probably will find it more difficult to comply with just about every voting rule than do people who are more affluent and have the benefit of more education.

  • John Yang:

    The court's decision could affect more than just the Arizona laws. It's the first case since the court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    The Supreme Court is looking to give guidance to the lower courts.

  • John Yang:

    Marcia Coyle is chief Washington correspondent for "The National Law Journal."

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is sort of the last tool standing. The Supreme Court could make it easier to challenge laws that are potentially discriminatory, it could make it harder, or it could make somewhere in between. It was really hard to tell today.

  • John Yang:

    State legislatures are working on new election laws that could be challenged in court.

    Tammy Patrick of the Democracy Fund:

  • Tammy Patrick:

    At this point in time, we really can look at any state in the nation and find examples either in the courtroom or in the state House where election reforms and policies are being taken into consideration.

  • John Yang:

    And Arizona Republican Party attorney Carvin bluntly answered Justice Amy Coney Barrett's question about what's at stake.

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    What's the interest of the Arizona RNC here in keeping, say, the out-of-precinct voter ballot disqualification rules on the books?

  • Michael Carvin:

    Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. Politics is a zero sum game.

  • John Yang:

    The high court's decision is expected by summer.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

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