Politics

Western Voters Faced Chaos At The Polls Last Night

CREDIT: AP Photo/John Locher

People wait in a line to vote at a Democratic caucus site Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Salt Lake City.

Last night’s primary in Arizona delivered big wins and sizable delegate hauls to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. While Bernie Sanders dominated the Democratic caucuses in Idaho and Utah, and Utah Republicans handed a win to Ted Cruz.

Republicans in the U.S. territory of American Samoa gave one delegate each to Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

But with reports of three hour wait times, online glitches, and legal restrictions, the contests also highlighted serious voting rights problems in those states.

Arizona

Arizona’s most populous county, home to Phoenix, cut its number of polling locations by 70 percent this year, so it was no surprise to see massive lines at the remaining polls during last night’s primary election. Some precincts ran out of ballots, while others saw some elderly voters give up and leave without voting.


Due to a history of racial voter suppression, this southwestern, Republican-controlled state was one of nine previous protected by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. Following that ruling, the state tried to force residents to show a proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, but that policy was blocked by federal courts.

Today, the state makes it more difficult to vote through a strict voter ID law, which does not accept student IDs as valid proof of identification. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey also signed legislation in March making it a felony for any group or individual to collect mail-in ballots from residents and turn them in. The governor said the measure would prevent voter fraud and ballot tampering, though there is no documented evidence of either problem.

Native American communities in Arizona also face barriers to voting. In order to register or vote early, tribal members have to drive up to four hours to reach a county office. The “permanent address” requirement for registering and voting also disenfranchises lower income residents who move from town to town for work, and low literacy rates among tribal members prevents many from participating. And though the state’s ID law allows tribal identification cards to be used for voting, many tribes don’t provide such cards to their members.

In past elections, the state has had one of the highest rates in the nation of rejected provisional ballots, causing the votes of tens of thousands of people to be thrown out in 2012 due to small errors like voting in the wrong precinct or forgetting to sign a ballot.

Like many states across the country, Arizona is also depending on aging voting machines whose glitches can lead to errors and exacerbate long lines at the polls.

Arizona has made its elections more accessible, however, by expanding in-person early voting and allowing residents to mail in their ballots before and on election day. This year, more than 1 million people cast a ballot early. The 60,000 people who voted early for Sen. Marco Rubio, who just dropped out of the 2016 race, may be disappointed that their ballot did not count.

Idaho

Tuesday’s Democratic caucus in Idaho attempted to deal with record turnout by allowing participants to check in online and by not requiring a proof of ID or address. Yet as ThinkProgress has extensively documented, the caucus process prevents many eligible voters from participating.

Unlike a primary, in which voters have all day, and often several days in advance to cast a ballot, caucuses require all residents to be present at a specific time on a specific day — in this case, 7 p.m. Mountain Time. Those who have to work, take care of children, or can’t make it to the caucus site due to an illness or disability are shut out of the process.

The state also disenfranchises people who have completed felony sentences but are still on parole or probation, a practice that several states have moved to eliminate because it disproportionately suppresses the votes of people of color. Nationally, nearly 6 million Americans, the vast majority of them black or Latino, are barred from voting due to a current of previous felony conviction.

Utah

This year, the Utah Republican Party sought to boost its voter turnout by allowing registered voters to cast their ballots online for the first time in the state’s history. Party officials say their new method is aimed at helping families, workers, missionaries, and those employed by the military participate in the voting process if they are unable to do so in person.

But the experiment did not go smoothly last night. Voters reported technical difficulties with Utah’s system, including delays in receiving their promised PIN numbers, and repeated error messages. The state GOP said a full quarter of those who attempted to vote were rejected because their ID couldn’t be verified.

State residents also expressed concern about the potential for hacking, noting that past online voting tests in other states revealed serious security flaws. Mark Thomas, Utah’s director of elections, noted that even false claims of hacking could throw results into question, potentially undermining the legitimacy of the system.

Democrats in the state were not afforded the online option, meaning those who could not appear in-person were disenfranchised. The Democratic Party’s website also crashed on election day due to high traffic.

American Samoa

Republicans in the U.S. territory of American Samoa also held a caucus on Tuesday night, sending one delegate each to Trump and Cruz. Residents of the island are not full U.S. citizens, unless they have U.S. citizen parents, and most cannot vote in the general election. They are represented in Congress by a delegate who has no vote, even on policies that impact the population.

A petition currently before the Supreme Court is attempting to extend birthright citizenship to Samoans. Five plaintiffs in Tuaua v. United States recently filed suit against the federal government, claiming that the current law, which bars them from voting for president but allows them to serve in the military, violates their constitutional rights. That law stems from a Supreme Court ruling dating back more than 100 years, which held that residents of U.S. territories are not entitled to the same privileges as other Americans because they belong to a “savage,” “uncivilized,” and “alien race.”

Bryan Dewan contributed to this report.