Arizona voters demand Justice Department keep polls open late tonight

Glitches and long lines have plagued the state’s biggest county.

Voters wait for the polls to open at dawn, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Phoenix. CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt York
Voters wait for the polls to open at dawn, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Phoenix. CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt York

PHOENIX, ARIZONA — Early Tuesday morning, voters in Maricopa County — Arizona’s biggest county — showed up to their polling places to find confusing signage, malfunctioning electronic poll books and voting machines, and hours-long lines.

“For us, that’s voter suppression,” Phoenix resident Francisca Porchas told ThinkProgress. “Many of the problems are happening on the west side, where a high percent of Latinos trying to vote. We think it’s not a coincidence.”

Porchas is part of a group of local activists, called Bazta Arpaio, who are working to unseat the county’s controversial sheriff, Joe Arpaio. On Tuesday morning, the group called on Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell to keep the polls open past their scheduled 7 p.m. closing time. If her office does not respond, the group’s volunteer lawyers plan to file a complaint with the Justice Department to try to force the county’s hand.

ThinkProgress’ calls to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office were not returned. Porchas said her calls went unanswered, as well. “They’re not being accountable and responsive,” she said.

Bazta Arpaio has volunteers monitoring 55 polling locations in Maricopa County, and Porchas said they reported “tons” of problems.

“Some locations had all machines down, in some the wi-fi was not working,” she said. “There was a man at the polling location 3rd and Fillmore who got there at 6 a.m. and waited two hours. There was another woman who was told she was at the wrong precinct and was turned away, even though she hadn’t moved and had voted in the same location for many years.”

Today, Maricopa County will have the exact same number of polling places the county offered in 2012 — 724 — despite having added more than 90,000 more voters to the rolls. Many of those precincts’ polling places are located in the same building, meaning there are only 640 separate locations. Long lines ensued Tuesday morning, and are expected again when residents get off work in the evening.

Adrian Fontes, who is running to replace Purcell as the elections administrator for Maricopa County, told ThinkProgress that lines can be a major barrier for low-income voters.

“Let’s say you’re going to go vote on Tuesday, and you might work two jobs, or you have kids you have to get ready for school,” he said. “If you can’t afford to stand in a long line, if you can’t afford daycare, that’s basically a poll tax. It’s just not fair.”

Fontes promised, if elected, to open many more polling places both on Election Day and during early voting to avoid such lines in the future.

“We have some precincts in this county that have up to 12,000 registered voters,” he said. “We should think about having four or five polling sites in a precinct that big, or sending them five or six times the resources.”

Meanwhile, a state official working for Donald Trump’s campaign sent out an e-mail with incorrect information about what time the polls close.

Jeff DeWit, Arizona’s State Treasurer and the National Chief Operation Officer for the Trump campaign sent out an e-mail to supporters telling them they had until 9 p.m. to show up. An official with the Secretary of State’s office blasted DeWit on Twitter for the misinformation, saying he was “deeply concerned and troubled” by it.

DeWit told voters incorrect information ahead of the state’s March primary, as well. He put out messages instructing independent voters to turn out and cast ballots, even though they were prohibited from participating in the state’s closed primary. Thousands of independent voters did show up only to be turned away, which exacerbated voting lines in the state that stretched up to five hours long.