For the 2016 presidential primary season, it was the classic and inevitable television “election moment”: As the clock ticked past midnight, thousands of Maricopa County, Ariz., voters were still standing in line to cast ballots in Arizona’s presidential primary. Longtime County Recorder Helen Purcell soon became the logical “film-at-11” culprit, especially after she’d initially suggested, not implausibly, that nearly 20,000 non-party-affiliated voters who couldn’t legally cast ballots in Arizona’s closed presidential primary had clogged the lines by showing up anyway on March 22. However, long lines hadn’t bedeviled Arizona’s other counties on primary day, and a likelier explanation soon emerged. With more than 1.2 million registered Democrats and Republicans, Maricopa County officials, aiming to save taxpayers’ money, had opened only 60 polling places. This compared to 200 in the 2012 presidential primary , and it was far fewer than other counties with far smaller populations. “We certainly made bad decisions … and didn’t anticipate there would be that many people going to the polling places,” Purcell later told the Arizona Republic. “We were obviously wrong — that’s my fault.”
Arizona asked a nonprofit watchdog for $50,000 for election registration records, but provides the information to political parties for free, Project Vote claims in court. Project Vote, a nonpartisan nonprofit advocate for voter registration, claims the state violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It sued Secretary of State Michele Reagan, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell and Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez on April 27 in Federal Court. Purcell’s office has been lambasted since many Maricopa County voters had to wait five hours in line to vote in the state’s March 22 Presidential Preference Election.
Maricopa County taxpayers will have to fork over almost $400,000 to make up for a misprint on 2 million ballots in a May special election. Half of the money will come from the county recorder’s office budget, and the remainder will have to be approved by the County Board, recorder’s office spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew told 12 News Monday. The botched ballots come in the wake of a presidential primary fiasco last month that saw hours-long waits in line. County Recorder Helen Purcell admited she “screwed up” by cutting the number of polling places by 70 percent from four years ago. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating what happened. Separate lawsuits have been filed in county and federal courts, alleging citizens were deprived of their right to vote.
In yet another elections embarrassment for Maricopa County, two million ballots were printed with the wrong Spanish-language description for a ballot proposition May 17, resulting in a massive reprinting of ballots and mailing of postcards to correct the mistake. This latest screw-up was uncovered the same day the county recorder’s office filed its formal response to a U.S Justice Department investigation of the botched presidential primary in March, which forced many voters to stand in line for hours. Many voters claimed they were disenfranchised by elections officials huge cut in polling places for the primary.
Arizona: Officials: Long lines at Arizona primary affected minorities and non-minorities equally | Associated Press
Election officials in Arizona’s largest county on Friday told the U.S. Justice Department that minority and non-minority voters were equally affected by problems during the state’s presidential primary election. Recorder Helen Purcell said in a 12-page letter to the department that wealthy, predominantly white parts of the Phoenix area saw the same long polling place lines as poor and minority parts of the county. The statement came in response to a Justice Department inquiry about problems during the March 22 election as it tries to determine if voting-rights laws were broken. Purcell again apologized for the long lines, as she has repeatedly since Election Day. “I sincerely apologize to all of the voters who had to wait in long lines,” Purcell wrote. “The burdens of long waiting times were county-wide and did not disproportionately burden areas with substantial racial or language minority populations.”
Ever since the Supreme Court poked a hole in the Voting Rights Act, activists have been warning of devastating effects on average voters showing up at the polls. Last month they got their case in Arizona, where some voters said they waited in lines longer than five hours to vote in the primary elections after Maricopa County, one of the most sprawling in the country, cut its number of polling places from more than 400 in 2008 down to 60 this year. Other voters said they had their registration secretly changed without their knowledge, locking them out of the “closed” primary, in which voters had to have declared their affiliation in advance to be able to vote in either party’s contest. Supporters of Sen. Bernard Sanders alleged dirty tricks, saying the vast majority of secret switches were those who were changed from Democrat to independent. “We made some horrendous mistakes, and I apologize for that. I can’t go back and undo it. I wish that I could, but I cannot,” Helen Purcell, the Maricopa County recorder, told a state legislative investigation last week. “I can only say we felt we were using the best information that we had available to us.”
Arizona: The primary was an utter disaster. But was it just a big mistake, or something more nefarious? | The Washington Post
That’s the question many of the thousands who waited for hours in the Phoenix area to vote last week are asking. Their answer largely depends on their politics and how much latitude they’re willing to give Arizona’s voting rights record. The drama and finger-pointing about the much-maligned March 22 presidential primary in Arizona’s largest county isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. State officials are still investigating what went wrong and why it led to so much voter turmoil, and some are calling for a federal investigation. So let’s quickly go through the arguments on both sides. The woman in charge of running the election for Arizona’s Maricopa County said the decision to cut polling locations by 70 percent from 2012 was a miscalculation on her part about who would come out to vote and where. “I made a giant mistake,” Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell said in a heated hearing in Arizona’s statehouse Tuesday as she accepted blame — and peoples’ scorn — for what happened.
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.
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.
Voting Blogs: My Thoughts on Arizona Long Lines: Incompetence, Not Vote Suppression, and Blame #SCOTUS First | Richard Hasen/Election Law Blog
The other day, while voting was taking place in AZ, I had a post entitled Would Long Lines at AZ Polling Places Have Happened if #SCOTUS Hadn’t Killed Voting Rights Act Provision? My point was that Maricopa County’s decision to cut the number of polling places by 2/3 would not have been possible before the Supreme Court decided the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case because to do so Arizona, which had been covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, would have had to demonstrate (and likely would not have been able to demonstrate) that doing so would not have made protected minority voters in Maricopa County (lots of Latino and Native American voters) worse off. So this review would have made a big difference. Which brings me to my point today. Section 5 worked not only to stop intentional minority vote suppression but also bureaucratic incompetence. The election administrator of Maricopa County, Helen Purcell, made a decision to cut polling places apparently to save money (there is always pressure from state and local governments to skimp on resources for election administration), and partially out a mistaken vast underestimation of election day turnout.
Bruce Weiss stewed after waiting 2½ hours in line outside a downtown Phoenix polling place, where juice drinks, snacks and circus animal cookies were handed out by citizens hoping to pacify thousands who turned out to cast ballots in Arizona’s presidential primary. The scene was repeated Tuesday as thousands stood in lines that wrapped around sidewalks at churches, community centers and government buildings after the number of places to vote were cut back as a cost-savings measure. Some voters took shelter from the sun under umbrellas. Others brought lawn chairs. Still others gave up and went home. The last voters entered polling spots after midnight. “It’s like a complete, total failure of government,” Weiss said. Waits dragged on as long as five hours in Maricopa County — home to metro Phoenix and 1.2 million voters eligible to cast ballots — but where only 60 polling places were open. By Wednesday, the mayor of Phoenix said the cutbacks were about more than saving money. Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, called for a federal investigation into whether election officials illegally put fewer polling locations in poor or minority-heavy areas.