Arizona Ballot Order Challenge Revived by 9th Circuit

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court ruling dismissing a challenge to Arizona’s ballot order statute. The lawsuit, Mecinas v. Hobbs, was filed in 2019 on behalf of multiple Democratic organizations and Arizona voters over the state’s ballot order statute, which requires that candidates affiliated with the same political party as the gubernatorial candidate who won the most votes in a county are listed first on that county’s ballots. Experts have found that the candidate listed first on a ballot often receives an electoral boost, a phenomenon known as the primacy effect. If a law is designed to favor a certain political party on a ballot by listing them first, that party benefits from the primacy effect and the other party, despite being similarly situated, can lose electoral power. The lawsuit alleges that this law treats similarly-situated political parties differently, specifically favoring the Republican Party, and violates the First and 14th Amendments.

The district court dismissed the case in June 2020, holding that the plaintiffs lacked standing (the ability to file a lawsuit challenging something) and that their lawsuit raised a political question that was nonjusticiable (meaning that the question raised in the lawsuit was too politically charged and not suitable for courts to decide). The plaintiffs appealed this decision to the 9th Circuit, which reversed the district court’s dismissal today after holding an oral argument in January. The appellate court held that at least one of the organizations, the Democratic National Committee, had standing to challenge the ballot order statute because it has shown its candidates are harmed based on the “ongoing, unfair advantage conferred to their rival candidates” and therefore can challenge the law in court. Second, the court held that the constitutionality of the ballot order statute does not present a political question and that courts are able to adjudicate the fairness of ballot ordering systems. However, the 9th Circuit did not rule on the actual constitutionality of the ballot order statute at this time, it just ruled on the procedural questions before it. The case will now go back to the district court, where the merits of the ballot order statute will be litigated.

Read the opinion here.