Last Tuesday we had our primary here, in Arizona. And suffice to say, it was a complete and utter disaster. So how could so much have gone wrong when so much went right up to that day? Among innumerable other volunteers, I have been actively campaigning for Bernie Sanders for a few months, now. And we’ve made a lot of phone calls, knocked on countless doors, and rallied the progressive people of Arizona to get out there and fight the good fight, using the only weapon they have at their disposal: their vote; their voice. And, to be honest, we succeeded, as everyone came out to participate in the election of a lifetime, only for our hopes and dreams to be snuffed out in one perditious day.
So, why was the most populated county in Arizona such a clusterfuck? In this article, I hope to explain what I believe occurred, to the best of my abilities, using multiple sources supplemented with anecdotal evidence.
Due to cutbacks, participating voters had to endure unforgivably long lines and longer waits—some as late as five hours. As a Bernie Sanders volunteer, my team was tasked with simply cheering people on, encouraging them to stay in line, and demand to be allowed to vote as long as they were in line before the cut-off time of 7pm. Consequently, even while many still broke away in order to get to their classes, pick up their kids from daycare, or make it to work on time, many stood their ground. But why did it come to this?
“Last year, over the objections of county elections officials, the Legislature cut the amount of money for the counties to run the presidential preference election.
“For Maricopa County, that meant a $1.9 million shortfall, according to figures compiled by the counties and the Arizona Secretary of State. In February, the county approved an extra $1.1 million for the election.
“Elizabeth Bartholomew, communications manager for the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, told The Republic on Tuesday that the election change “saves a lot of money.” But on Wednesday, she told the paper she couldn’t say exactly how much money was saved. In fact, she contended that the cost savings weren’t a major reason why the Elections Department made the change to have only 60 polling places.
“Early this year, the Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey promised to reimburse the 15 counties for their full costs, as state law requires. When the money wasn’t immediately approved, the counties were left to come up with their own plans to make the election work.
“Two bills to restore the funding are currently stalled in the Legislature.”
Apparently, in 2008, we had 400 polling places and, in 2012, it was reduced to 200. And from County Recorder, Helen Purcell’s own words, her department was “required by law to have no more than half of the normal polling places”—which would have brought them down to 100—yet she figured that, factoring in low turnouts, that 1/3 of voters would be independent, and thus ineligible to vote and, with the increasing popularity of PEVL ballots, we could get by with a mere 60 polling places.
Now, what I want to know is, why has the state stalled on the funding? Why, with a growing number of registered voters/taxpayers would they decrease funding, thereby decreasing overall polling places? How long has this been going on?
How were they able to get away with that? It goes back to the Supreme Court case of Shelby County vs Holder which struck down a key provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965:
“Section 5 of the Act required States to obtain federal permission before enacting any law related to voting—a drastic departure from basic principles of federalism.”
Why was it struck down? Because the court believed it unnecessarily discriminated against certain states.
“Until the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling that weakened the Voting Rights Act, Arizona and its local governments were required under the VRA’s Section 5 to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to their election rules. If the change might harm minority voters, it could be blocked.”
The reality, of course, was that the very protections this was meant to afford minorities was denied, as polling places were vastly eliminated in Latino areas.
Party Status Changed
To add insult to injury, many voters who made it to the end of the line had to wait even longer to vote, as the precincts had run out of ballots and voters had to wait for them to print more while others, less fortunate, received terrifying news that their party affiliation had been changed . As it stands, Arizona maintains closed primaries, which means voters may only vote for candidates of their own respective parties, and that independents, being unaffiliated with either the Democrat or Republican parties, would not be qualified to vote for either party without first re-registering as a member of one of those parties at least a month before the election.
“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. 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.”
Of course, they were offered provisional ballots, but Helen Purcell, herself confirmed that they would not be counted. Needless to say, a lot of voters were disgusted with their experience.
As it is, with the long lines and learning that their party affiliation had been changed, and then to learn that Clinton had won the primary even while thousands remained in line, waiting to vote, many voters were understandably, yet unnecessarily—though almost certainly intentionally—discouraged.