A protester was led off in handcuffs from the visitors’ gallery of the Arizona Legislature on Monday amid a fractious debate over Primary Day last week, when a drastic cutback in polling locations left tens of thousands of Arizonans unable to vote, forced to cast provisional ballots or made to wait in long lines for hours in the high heat. As the anger bubbled over within a packed State Capitol, a sheepish election official blamed the chaos on poor planning and a misguided attempt to save money by closing poll locations. “I apologize profusely — I can’t go back and undo it,” said Helen Purcell, the Maricopa County recorder, during a hearing of the Arizona House Elections Committee on Monday as more than 100 voters listened. Maricopa County, which is Arizona’s most populous and includes the greater Phoenix area, had slashed the number of polling places by 70 percent from 2012.
Ms. Purcell, a Republican holding the office since 1988, tried to offer explanations for what went wrong as the county reduced the number of polling places to 60 from 200 — one site for roughly 21,500 voters — but the capacity crowd was having none of it. One man said, “Not good enough.” The audience cheered.
More than 100 voters filled three interconnected rooms, and more than 30 signed up to testify. Security personnel stood on the sides, and at one point a handful of state troopers moved inside, threatening to remove anyone who was disruptive.
The hearing ended in mid-session at 1:30 p.m. because committee members had to move to another hearing to vote on a campaign finance bill. One of the members, Ken Clark, a Democrat, urged audience members to follow them, and they did. A masked man screamed from the gallery; troopers soon surrounded him and took him outside in handcuffs, delaying the hearing’s start.