arizona Dems: Long lines suppressed vote


Associated Press

PHOENIX

Hours-long waits for some Arizona residents wanting to vote in the presidential primary have led to accusations of voter suppression from Democrats and civil rights proponents who cite a decision by elections officials to slash the number of polling places this year.

Residents in metro Phoenix have been bristling for years over a perception that state leaders want to make it harder for them to vote, and the mess at the polls Tuesday only heightened their frustration.

Republican lawmakers passed a series of measures in recent years aimed at cracking down on voter fraud, but opponents believe the changes were merely ploys to stifle Democratic turnout.

Those battles are being waged again after people waited in line for five hours to vote in some places.

“Let’s be clear – voter suppression happened,” U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego said at a news conference Thursday, adding it might not have been intentional, but it happened nonetheless.

The Phoenix Democrat said Arizona has a long history of voter suppression, including a new law that would block voter-outreach groups from collecting and dropping off early ballots.

Limiting the number of polling locations disproportionately affects minorities and the working poor, he said. They have a harder time finding transportation to polling locations and are less likely to have the time needed to wait in long lines.

Maricopa County’s top elections official, Recorder Helen Purcell, cut the number of polling places in the presidential primary from 200 in 2012 to just 60 on Tuesday, although those were larger voting centers where any registered voter could cast a ballot. During the last high-turnout presidential primary, in 2008, there were 400 polling places in the county of 4 million residents.

Arizona’s Democratic Party is considering filing a lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act to determine if the county recorder’s actions disenfranchised voters, said Jim Barton, the party’s attorney.

Barton said Tuesday’s fiasco largely stemmed from a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key provision of that law.

The provision required Arizona and all or part of 14 other states to get Justice Department approval, or “pre-clearance,” for changes in how they conduct elections.

Barton’s conclusion about the high court decision in Shelby County v. Holder is right on the money, said constitutional scholar Paul Bender, a former law school dean and deputy solicitor general in the Clinton Administration.

“That’s the first thing I thought when I saw these long lines. I said, ‘Oh, Shelby County,’” Bender said. “If they had not gotten rid of Section 5 – practically gotten rid of it, that is removed the pre-clearance requirements – that never would have been pre-cleared.”

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