PHOENIX -- It turns out that the old quip about voting early and often is not illegal in Arizona.
In a unanimous ruling Tuesday, the state Court of Appeals threw out the conviction of a Bullhead City woman who prosecutors said voted in both Colorado and Arizona. The judges said the way the Arizona law is worded, people who are qualified to vote here can also cast ballots in other states -- assuming the other states don't have a problem with it.
In fact, appellate Judge Kenton Jones said the only way to break the Arizona law with multi-state voting is when a presidential candidate is on the ballot.
Carol Hannah was indicted in 2013 after prosecutors said she cast an early ballot in the 2010 election in Adams County, Colo. and then went to the polls that November in Bullhead City. She was convicted of illegal voting, a felony, and placed on probation for three years.
Her attorney, Virginia Crews, said Hannah, never actually cast a ballot in Colorado. She said Hannah did mail back an early voting envelope but said it contained a note saying she had moved the year before.
Jones said it really doesn't matter.
He said the law makes it a crime to knowingly vote more than once "at any election.'' And Jones said the purpose of the law is "to prevent any voter from having a greater say in the outcome of an election than any other voter by limiting each qualified person to one ballot per election.''
But he said the 2010 election in Colorado and the 2010 election in Arizona were legally separate events.
"We recognize the elections held on the first Tuesday following the first Monday of November in every even-numbered year are sometimes referred to as 'national elections' because they, collectively, include the selection of all members of the House of Representatives and one-third of the members of the Senate,'' Jones wrote.
"However, these state elections are held on the same day as a matter of administrative and practical convenience,'' the judge said, mainly to have congressional elections from occurring on different days in different states.
"But, within that singular time constraint, each state conducts a separate election for the selection of its senators and representatives,'' Jones said. "Thus, the elections held in Arizona and Colorado on Nov. 2, 2010, although occurring on the same day, were separate and discrete elections, held in two different states.''
He said the court's finding is consistent with ensuring that Hannah did not get undue influence by being allowed to vote twice for the same candidate, pointing out that 2010 was not a presidential election year.
Jones said he and his colleagues did not reach their decision to toss Hannah's conviction lightly.
"We do not mean to imply that voting in elections held in two separate states on the same date is otherwise proper or lawful,'' the judge wrote. He said such actions raise questions of whether Hannah was legally qualified to vote in both states in November 2010.
But Jones pointed out that prosecutors never said Hannah, who Crews said moved to Bullhead City in 2009, was not qualified to vote in Arizona. If that had been the case, he said, Hannah could have been charged under a separate law making it a felony for someone not entitled to vote to cast a ballot.
And what of Colorado?
"Whether Hannah was qualified to cast a ballot in the Colorado election is a matter for Colorado to address in the interpretation and application of its own law,'' Jones wrote. Crews said her client was never charged with violating either the Colorado law or a federal statute that prohibits voting more than once in a federal election.
The ruling came as a surprise to Secretary of State Michele Reagan. Matt Roberts, her press aide, said she was unaware there was even a legal challenge to the law, with the appeal handed by the Attorney General's Office.
"We are certainly disappointed the AG's case went down in flames,'' Roberts said. But he said Reagan is "confident we can fix it next legislative session,'' amending the Arizona to make voting in two states during the same election cycle illegal.
Roberts said Arizona exchanges information with 27 other states, using computers to look for identical names, dates of birth and the last four digits of Social Security numbers. If there is a match, then his agency compares signatures.