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.”
But as an elected Republican, Purcell’s unfortunate moment in the national spotlight happened to fit conveniently into a larger narrative. Under the guise of fiscal responsibility, wasn’t this yet another Machiavellian Republican attempt to disenfranchise or dissuade lots of young, minority and Democratic-leaning voters? Purcell’s forthright mea culpa didn’t begin to quell the partisan outrage: Democrats accused her of voting suppression, and a U.S. Department of Justice voting-rights investigation was demanded.
But is that the real story of Maricopa County’s long voting lines? I spent nine years as Oregon’s secretary of state, an elected Democrat overseeing an election system whose 36 county clerks were a mixture of elected and appointed officials of both parties (or none). Based largely on that personal experience, and some excellent reporting by the Arizona Republic’s Rebekah L. Sanders, Maricopa County Democrats’ dark assertions seem more like an implausible conspiracy theory than a genuine effort by Republicans to keep Democrats from voting.
Full Article: The Wrong Lessons From a Voting Fiasco.