Saturday, April 16, 2016

Democrats Sue Arizona Over Vote Suppression by Phoenix Recorder

Via Courthouse News 
Courthouse News Service
(CN) — The Democratic National Committee sued the state of Arizona Friday over access to the polls after the state's presidential primary last month left some voters waiting as long as five hours to cast a ballot.
     The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona by several Democratic committees and a handful of voters, focuses on Maricopa County, where voters faced the longest lines on March 22 during the Democratic and Republican primaries.
     Among the named defendants are Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell.
     Maricopa County, the state's most populous county, only had 60 voting centers open in March, which equates to 21,000 voters per polling places. Purcell had reduced the number of polling sites by 70 percent from 2012 in an effort to save money.
     "This was a reduction in voting sites of shocking magnitude," the DNC says in its complaint, pointing out that the county had 403 polling locations in 2008 and 211 locations in 2012.
     The inadequate number of voting centers "resulted in severe, inexcusable burdens on voters countywide, as well as the ultimate disenfranchisement of untold numbers of voters who were unable or unwilling to wait in intolerably long lines to cast their ballot for their preferred presidential candidate," the lawsuit says.
     Long lines formed outside of many of the polling places and thousands of Arizona voters were still waiting to cast their ballots after the polls officially closed at 7 p.m. At the Salvation Army polling location in downtown Phoenix, hundreds of people were still in line to vote more than four hours after the polls closed, while votes in at least 20 other locations were still being cast at 10 p.m., the DNC says.
     Meanwhile, some polling locations saw as few as 21 voters, according to the DNC.
     "(T)here is no indication that Maricopa County officials made any coordinated outreach effort to alleviate lines by informing voters that lines were shorter at other nearby polling places. Nor is there any indication that Ms. Purcell had developed or implemented any contingency plan for addressing long lines," the lawsuit says.
     The DNC says that the insufficient number of voting locations was particularly burdensome on blacks, Latinos and Native Americans — all voters who are more likely to vote Democratic.
     "In primarily Anglo communities like Cave Creek, there was one polling place per 8,500 residents. In Phoenix, a majority-minority city where 40.8 percent of its 1.5 million residents are Hispanic, there was only one polling place allocated per 108,000 residents," according to the lawsuit.
     The DNC says that the county made no effort to ensure that the plan to allocate voting centers would not disparately disenfranchise minority voters in Arizona.
     "In the end, Ms. Purcell and Maricopa County underestimated the total number of voters by half, and failed to account for over 11,500 early voters who had received mail-in ballots but still went to the polls to vote. In testimony after the fact, Ms. Purcell admitted that she made 'some horrendous mistakes,' but that realization came too late for the thousands of Arizona voters whose right to vote was severely burdened — and in many cases, wholly denied — as a result," the DNC says.
     Furthermore, a new state law enacted in March makes it a felony for one voter to turn in a signed, sealed ballot to the county registrar on behalf of another voter has negatively impacted minority communities, the lawsuit says.
     "This legislation was passed over the protests of Arizona's Hispanic, Native American, and African-American voters, all of which have relied heavily on community members, organizers, and friends to deliver ballots to the registrar's office in past elections, and all of which now are significantly more likely to have their right to vote abridged or denied in the coming general election," the DNC says.
     The lawsuit asks a federal judge to review the polling location plan for the November election and to stop statewide policies that have a disparate impact on minority communities.
     Maricopa County said in a statement following last months' election that the board members "recognize the mistakes that kept some members of the voting public from reaching the polls" and that they will "continue to study what happened to make sure everyone gets the opportunity to vote in future elections."
     County officials have already said there will be more voting locations in the November election.
     DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement that Republicans "are using every tool, every legal loophole and every fear tactic they can think of to take aim to voting rights wherever they can."
     She added that Friday's lawsuit was "absolutely necessary."
     The campaigns for Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plan to join the lawsuit.
     Jeff Weaver, the Sanders campaign manager, called the handling of the primary election in Arizona "a disgrace."
     "People should not have to wait in line for five hours to vote. How many people were turned away? What happened in Arizona is part of a pattern of disenfranchisement by Republicans," Weaver said.
     Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, said in a statement that the campaign is "committed to fighting for all voters to be able to exercise their fundamental right to have their voices heard in this election. We share the concerns of Arizona supporters of both campaigns who encountered barriers and appreciate the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and DNC's willingness to let us join the case as a party."
     A county spokesperson had no comment on the lawsuit.