When the Supreme Court threw out major elements of the Voting Rights Act three years ago, Maricopa County in Arizona moved quickly to lower the cost of holding elections. Among its first moves was to reduce the number of polling centers from 200 to 60. With fewer locations, the state allowed voters to choose any polling station in the county. The hope was to make voting more convenient and encourage more people to cast their ballots by mail. It hasn’t turned out that way. The result: stories of having to wait five hours to vote in the March primary election for president, a call to impeach Arizona’s secretary of state, three lawsuits and a Justice Department inquiry. “I don’t know what the right word is to express it,” Arizona Atty. Gen. Mark Brnovich said at a news conference Thursday, speaking of his anger at the situation “as an Arizonan and as attorney general.”
Arizona has an ugly history with elections. Native Americans were long forbidden from voting because the state considered them “wards of the nation.” The state once required residents to pass a literacy test in order to vote and refused to print election materials in languages other than English.
In 1972, federal elections officials labeled Arizona one of nine problem states, along with Alaska and several in the Deep South, that were required to submit all potential changes in election law to the Justice Department for preclearance to ensure they did not unfairly target minorities.
The Supreme Court eliminated that requirement in the 2013 case Shelby County vs. Holder, clearing the way for Maricopa County — where 40% of voters are minorities — to change its elections laws without federal oversight. On election night March 22, the waits in Maricopa County — the state’s most populous — felt interminable. The line in front of the Church of the Nazarene in Maryville stretched to 700 people.