Supreme Court appears ready to uphold Arizona election measures in Voting Rights Act case

The Supreme Court's conservative majority on Tuesday appeared ready to uphold election measures in Arizona that would require election officials to throw away provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct, and limit who can collect absentee ballots for delivery to polling places. The justices heard arguments in the case as dozens of state legislatures consider changes to their election laws, including many that voting rights groups say could curb voter access. Ed O'Keefe reports.

Video Transcript

- The political and legal fight over election laws and the right to vote is getting more intense this morning. Democrats in Congress are pushing one proposal that would affect all Americans, while Republicans are going state by state attacking efforts to make voting easier. Ed O'Keefe is with us now. Ed, good morning to you. So the Supreme Court just heard arguments on some voting restrictions in Arizona?

ED O'KEEFE: That's right, Tony. Lower courts had said that these two laws disproportionately affect voters of color. One of them has to do with provisional ballots that are cast in the wrong precinct, often accidentally. The other has to do with the collection of your absentee ballot. Somebody might pick it up and drop it off at the polling site. Critics call that ballot harvesting. The high court likely going to keep these two laws in place. But the hearing about them revealed one of the reasons why Democrats and Republicans keep fighting over these kinds of laws.

Under questioning from Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the attorney for Arizona Republicans explained part of the reason why they want to keep the laws on the books is pure politics.

MICHAEL CARVIN: It puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. Politics is a zero-sum game. And every extra vote they get through unlawful interpretations of Section 2 hurts us."

ED O'KEEFE: That zero-sum game appears to be part of what's driving the voting rights debate. In Washington, Democrats controlling the House are pushing through a plan that they say would expand voting rights and establish new national standards for automatic voter registration and how elections are conducted.

ZOE LOFGREN: We can deliver the gold standard of reforms to protect the right of Americans to vote.

ED O'KEEFE: Republicans say it goes too far.

KEVIN MCCARTHY: Under the Constitution, we generally defer to states and counties to run elections. Democrats want to change that.

ED O'KEEFE: But in more than 40 states, Republicans are the ones trying to change election laws, with more than 250 proposals that critics say would curb at least some voter access. In Georgia, there are proposals to limit access to absentee ballots, add ID requirements, and restrict the number of weekend early voting days. Republicans say the changes address unsubstantiated concerns about alleged widespread election fraud.

SHAW BLACKMON: That an integrity of an election is just as important as access to an election.

ED O'KEEFE: Democrats say they would disenfranchise minority voters.

BEE NGUYEN: You are choosing to support a bill that is so egregious that it is nationally known as Jim Crow in a suit and tie.

ED O'KEEFE: So that's in Atlanta down in Georgia. Here in Washington, Democrats today, that bill they're going to pass in the House, it's called the For the People Act. It's going to sail through with just Democratic support, but it's likely dead in the Senate, where it would require Republican support to clear a filibuster. We'll see what happens.

Meanwhile, over at the White House, President Biden has pulled the nomination for his budget chief, Neera Tanden. Withdrew her nomination last night amid bipartisan criticism of, for lack of a better term, mean tweets about members of both parties. The White House says they're going to find something else for her to do instead that doesn't require a Senate confirmation. Tony.

- Yeah, the definition of mean tweets is pretty elastic, given the tweets of the former president. I'm curious, Joe Biden cannot be accused of rushing to remove this nomination. He stuck with it for quite a long time. How come?

ED O'KEEFE: Well, a few reasons. One, they wanted to keep Tanden in place because, you know, she represents some history. She would have been the first Indian-American to hold that job. She's one of the women that they're trying to get nominated to senior posts. The other is that they were under the belief that they could get at least one Republican vote for this, given that at least one Democrat had said they weren't interested in confirming her. But ultimately, the horse trading that was going on, they determined that it just couldn't happen. I suppose the moral of the story is, Tony, just watch your tweets.

- That was exactly what I was going to say, Ed. Well-- well put. All right, thank you very much.