A federal appeals court won't force Arizona election officials to find and count the ballots of people who were not allowed to register to vote because they didn't provide proof of citizenship.
In an unsigned order Thursday, the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged its earlier ruling that the citizenship-proof requirement imposed by Arizona voters in 2004 runs afoul of federal statutes.
But the judges said that ruling came weeks after the deadline to register to vote in Arizona had closed on Oct. 4. That was also the day that early ballots were mailed.
"We generally decline to interfere with statewide elections after voting has begun,'' the order stated.
Beyond that, the judges said that even if they were to order the ballots counted, there is little chance it would change the outcome of last week's election. They noted that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which sued to overturn the law and then asked for the emergency order, has so far been able to identify only four people who they believe whose votes should be counted.
Finally, the court said if MALDEF was concerned about some people improperly being denied the right to vote, the organization should have sought an emergency order immediately after the original Oct. 28 order finding the state voter registration procedure illegal. That would have enabled election officials to segregate out the ballots at issue separate from the other 84,000 provisional ballots.
Instead, the judges said, MALDEF waited until after the election to seek the relief.
"If we now granted relief, (the) delay would substantially increase the burden on county election officials in determining which provisional ballots are attributable to voters who were improperly denied registration under the invalidated law, and could ultimately preclude the state from completing this process in time to certify the election results by Arizona's statutory deadline,'' the order states.
Nothing in Thursday's order undermines the court's original decision that federal law spells out what states can -- and cannot -- demand prospective voters to provide when registering. That latter list, they said, does not include proof of citizenship.
Instead, the judges said, states can require only that people registering sign a sworn statement attesting to their citizenship.
But the court left intact another provision of the 2004 law which requires those voting at the polls to produce proper identification.