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Arizona Hit With Lawsuit Over Its Disastrous Primary Day

Voters wait in line to cast their ballot in Arizona’s presidential primary election, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Gilbert, Ariz. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MATT YORK
Voters wait in line to cast their ballot in Arizona’s presidential primary election, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Gilbert, Ariz. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MATT YORK

This Friday, a group of Maricopa County voters will sue the state of Arizona over the disastrous primary election in March that left them waiting up to five hours in the desert heat to cast a ballot. They will be joined in the case by the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Democratic National Committee, the Arizona Democratic Party, the president of the Navajo Nation, and the campaign of Ann Kirkpatrick, who is challenging Sen. John McCain for his seat in Congress.

“Arizonans were denied their constitutional right to vote because those who run the system weren’t prepared, and it can never happen again,” Kirkpatrick said in an e-mailed statement. “Today’s action is about representing every Arizona voter who stood in line for far too long or was forced to go home without casting a ballot.”

The case demands the U.S. District Court of Phoenix review why the county cut the number of available polling places from 200 to 60, leaving only one voting center for every 21,000 voters, and ensure there are adequate polls open for this November’s general election, which will have even higher voter turnout. Even in the lower-turnout March primary, some polling places ran out of ballots.

Arizonans were denied their constitutional right to vote.

Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo told ThinkProgress that there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the election day debacle, including whether voters of color were intentionally or inadvertently burdened or suppressed in exercising their right to vote.

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“If you look at the long lines we had, they were in both poor, predominantly minority areas and more affluent neighborhoods,” he said. “However, that does not erase the fact that minorities and low income families may had to have drive a lot further, and had less overall access to voting centers.”

In a statement about the lawsuit, the DNC additionally highlighted the disparate impact of “state’s arbitrary rejection of provisional ballots at alarming rates, especially those cast by Hispanic voters.”

“More minority voters will likely be disenfranchised in future elections as the direct result of a new state law enacted in March, which makes it a felony for one voter to turn in a signed, sealed ballot to the county registrar on behalf of another voter,” the party warned.

Gallardo and other Arizona officials also emphasized that Arizona’s election woes are directly connected to Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key section of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. In that decision, the Court’s conservative majority scrapped the federal oversight that was mandated for Arizona and a handful of other states that have a history of racial voter suppression. Because the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress has so far refused to reauthorize the full Voting Rights Act, Arizona was able to shut down polling places, implement a strict voter ID law, and make other changes without first getting approval from the Justice Department.

Though the Justice Department department has lost the authority to block such changes in advance, they have opened an investigation into what happened in Arizona, demanding the state hand over records on their polling places, registered voters, and provisional ballots.

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The new lawsuit from the Democratic Party aims to remedy the problem before November, when the key swing state could help determine the fate of both the White House and the Senate. Democrats are also suing in four other swing states — Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina — over allegations of voter suppression against students, people of color, and the poor.

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz argued Thursday that policies in these states are a deliberate attempt by Republican officials to maintain their power. “They want nothing less than to disenfranchise voting groups who are inconvenient to them on Election Day,” she said. “That’s exactly what Arizona’s officials did when they closed polling locations and rejected thousands of provisional ballots, and it’s exactly what they’ll continue to do if left unchecked.”

Sanders echoed this sentiment, stating: “What happened in Arizona is part of a pattern of voter disenfranchisement by Republicans.”