The Justice Department has opened an investigation over the decisions that led to the chaotic presidential primaries in Arizona’s most populous county, where thousands of voters waited up to five hours to cast ballots and thousands more were barred from participating because of mistakes and confusion over party registration. In a letter dated Friday, Chris Herron, chief of the voting section of the department’s Civil Rights Division, cited “allegations of disproportionate burden in waiting times to vote on election days in some areas with substantial racial or language minority populations” as he outlined a list of requests to the Maricopa County recorder, Helen Purcell. They include the reasons for reducing the number of polling places by 70 percent in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, and the procedures used to log party registration in the rolls. Ms. Purcell has said the cuts were primarily a cost-cutting measure.
The goal, Mr. Herron wrote, is to “properly evaluate Maricopa County’s compliance with the federal voting rights statutes during the administration of the March 22, 2016, election,” the first in the state since the Supreme Court in 2013 annulled a provision of the Voting Rights Act requiring federal approval for any changes to the electoral process. Arizona was one of 15 states that had to abide by the provision, known as Section 5.
Arizona has a long history of discrimination against minorities, preventing American Indians from voting for much of its history because they were considered “wards of the nation,” imposing English literacy tests on prospective voters and printing English-only election materials even as the state’s Spanish-speaking population grew.