It was bad enough that some Arizona voters had to stand in line for up to five hours after the polls closed in their state’s primary election. Then it got worse: When asked who was to blame, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell replied, “The voters for getting in line, maybe us for not having enough polling places.” An election official blaming voters is appalling. These people were heroes of democracy, performing their civic duty despite losing their evening to bureaucratic incompetence. The real blame lies with sweeping failures across local, state and federal governments. That includes Purcell. Her job is to run a smooth election, yet she reduced the number of polling places in Maricopa County from more than 200 in the 2012 primary to 60 this year. It’s not hard to understand how this caused longer lines. Purcell made herself an easy scapegoat, but she’s far from the only one. There are deeper problems to address if we are to fix this crisis. We chronically underfund elections. Faced with budget shortfalls, Purcell hoped to persuade more voters to use an inexpensive mail ballot. She could then reduce the number of costly polling locations without creating long lines. She should have known this was a false hope. The 2016 primaries have been generating record turnout in Republican races and higher than usual Democratic turnout as well.
More alarmingly, The Arizona Republic reports that predominantly Latino communities were often without a polling location. If this were not enough, the state legislature recently passed a law criminalizing outside groups that assist voters, often those living in disadvantaged communities, with delivery of their mail ballots.
Part of the blame for all of this lies with the U.S. Supreme Court. Nine states, along with dozens of counties in five other states, used to be covered by a Voting Rights Act requirement that state and local governments seek federal approval of any election changes before they took effect. The federal government would block changes that could have detrimental effects on minority voters.
If the Voting Rights Act had been in full force, the federal government would have likely stopped Maricopa County from drastically reducing the number of polling places, at least in predominantly minority communities, and would have likely blocked Arizona from burdening early voters.
Full Article: Blame government for voting crisis: Column.