During last night’s primary, Arizona election officials showed America what textbook voter suppression looks like. While Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both won their respective primaries, the lingering questions of voter disenfranchisement will mar those victories.
Here are five examples of how Arizona voters were denied their voice last night:
1. Lines were so long people literally spent an entire work day waiting in line
In 2012, Maricopa County, which is the most populous county in Arizona, had over 200 polling locations open on primary day. In 2016, that number was reduced to just 60. This amounted to over 20,000 voters for every polling location, meaning voters had to stand in line for hours to cast their ballots.
An aunt and cousin just got their "I voted" stickers after 5 hours and 20 minutes in Phoenix.
— Vaughn Hillyard (@VaughnHillyard) March 23, 2016
Almost 12am in Arizona and we have reports of more than 1000 people still waiting to vote at some of the polls. Yup! Oh Arizona…
— Erika Andiola (@ErikaAndiola) March 23, 2016
Most counties I surveyed had enough polls for 2.5K or fewer voters per site. Maricopa County? 20,833 voters per polling site. #azprimary
— Caitlin McGlade (@CaitMcGlade) March 23, 2016
As it turns out, elections in Arizona are governed by the county recorder, who determines how many polling places are actually open on Election Day. The recorder in Pima County, which houses Tucson, had twice as many polling locations open than in Maricopa County. And Pima County is roughly one-third the size of Maricopa County.
Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell was responsible for the reduction in polling places in 2016, justifying it by saying turnout was traditionally low, so the solution was to reduce the number of places where citizens could cast their vote.
Local NBC reporter Joe Dana put this in perspective with one tweet:
Consider: 2012 primary had 300,000 voters and 200 polling places. 2016 primary has estimated 800,000 voters at 60 polling places. #12News
— JOE DANA (@JoeDanaReports) March 23, 2016
Another local reporter, Jason Volentine, managed to capture video of one of the long lines in Maricopa County in a live Facebook broadcast, while interviewing several voters who had no choice but to wait hours in the hot sun to participate in the primary:
Another man testified that he had waited for over four hours to cast his ballot in Maricopa County, where the line stretched for over half a mile.
— Alec (@PolicyAlec) March 23, 2016
In the wake of so many stories and social media outbursts about long lines, Helen Purcell became the target of outrage. However, when confronted by a local reporter, Purcell instead blamed the voters for getting in line. Literally.
Purcell may have been responsible for a new Maricopa County record: The last ballot in her county wasn’t cast until after midnight local time, or 3 AM Eastern time. The elections are such a mess in Arizona that the Secretary of State and the Office of the Maricopa County Recorder are admitting they can’t handle running an election. Both Purcell and Secretary of State Michele Reagan support legislation that will turn the administration of elections over to state party organizations.
2. Clear voter suppression in Latino neighborhoods
In Helen Purcell’s mad dash to consolidate polling locations across Maricopa County, she somehow forgot to have polling places open in densely-populated Latino communities on the day of the primary. This is a glaring oversight, given that 40.8 percent of Phoenix’s 1.5 million residents are Latino. Democratic State Senator Martin Quezada told AZCentral.com that the lack of available polling locations for the Latino community was problematic.
“In my district, there is only one polling place,’’ Sen. Quezada said. “In my neighboring district, LD 30, there are no polling places.”
“It is no coincidence many poor and predominantly Latino areas didn’t get a polling place,” AZCentral.com editorial columnist Elvia Diaz wrote Tuesday night.
3. Democrats mistakenly registered as independents, given provisional ballots
As Arizona voters were still waiting to cast their ballots, US Uncut reported on allegations that voters who had previously registered as Democrat were instead listed in the voter database as “independent,” “No party listed,” or even “Libertarian.” In Arizona’s closed primary system, independent voters are denied their voice by having to vote with a provisional ballot. But what voters classified as “independent” who cast provisional ballots don’t realize is that their ballots are never counted.
42-year-old Kelly Thornton, who worked as an Election Day Technician in Yavapai County voting center 5 on Tuesday, told US Uncut that roughly two-thirds of voters who came to her precinct had been mistakenly identified as independent by the election software. All of those voters were subsequently forced to cast a provisional ballot.
“One man was a lifelong Democrat who was listed as independent. He left the precinct, went to his house, and came back with a card showing that he was registered as a Democrat,” Thornton told US Uncut. “But when I called the election center (administered by the county recorder’s office), they told me to just give him a provisional ballot anyway.”
“People were so cavalier about it, it was like no big deal,” Thornton added.
Thornton was also given a script by the Yavapai County recorder’s office to read to voters, verbatim, when they asked if their provisional ballots would be counted. The script outright tells the voter that if they cast a provisional ballot when the system lists them as independent, their vote will not be counted:
“I called the Arizona Democratic Party office around 1 PM, and I said, ‘Something is not right here.’ They said someone would call me back, and nobody called me back,” Thornton said. “This is the exact same thing that voters have been experiencing in Pima and Maricopa County all day.”
Given that one of Bernie Sanders’ largest bases of voter support comes from independents, it isn’t hard to see why the Vermont senator lost Arizona handily — his core supporters’ ballots weren’t counted.
4. Suspicious evacuations of county buildings at peak voting times
The office of the Pima County recorder, which oversees elections in the Tucson area, received warning of a suspicious package in an adjacent garage, and workers answering calls from polling places had to put everything on hold for nearly an hour. By the time workers returned to the phones, they had to bring in additional staff to help with the call load.
According to Tucson News Now, that wasn’t the only location that received a bomb threat on primary day:
Four locations in Tucson received bomb threats on Tuesday, so the building was evacuated as a precaution. At the time of the evacuation, the Pima County Recorder’s Office had been staffing a voter help line to answer questions about voter eligibility, polling locations and other voting-related issues.
5. Calling Arizona for Hillary Clinton while people were still in line
At roughly 8:30 PM local time, a little over an hour after polls closed, with less than one percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press declared Hillary Clinton the winner of the Arizona primary. In Democratic primaries and caucuses, delegates are awarded proportionally, meaning that even if a candidate “wins” a state, their opponent still gets a share of delegates. If the win is razor-thin, delegates are split. A premature declaration of victory for one candidate may discourage thousands of people still waiting in line from voting.
Only around 1% counted in #AZPrimary. Thousands still in line. Reports of voter suppression. But media calls instantly for Hillary
— Kevin Gosztola (@kgosztola) March 23, 2016
Crazy idea: Don't report results if thousands of people are still lined up to vote because there aren't enough polling stations. #AZPrimary
— Derrick O'Keefe (@derrickokeefe) March 23, 2016
Many on social media are crying foul over the incompetent primary process. A Whitehouse.gov petition has been launched calling on the Obama administration to investigate the claims of voter suppression during the Arizona primary. The White House is obligated to respond to all petitions that garner over 100,000 signatures. Add your name below to demand an independent investigation: