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Sunday, October 2, 2016


I’ve lived in Phoenix for more than 20 years -- and what I witnessed last Tuesday during Arizona’s presidential primary is unacceptable.  

Election Day should have gone smoothly. In the days leading up to the election, people were excited. But when I went to my polling place on Tuesday, long lines stretched around the building -- and people were visibly angry and frustrated.

I wasn’t alone. According to news reports, voters stood in lines for hours in several locations -- some as long as 5 hours or more. Only 60 polling sites were open in Maricopa County -- the most diverse, populated county in the region with the highest voter turnout in Arizona. Many people were turned away or walked away -- unable to vote. 

Believe it or not, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell -- who has been in charge of elections and making sure every vote counts in the county since 1988 -- immediately defended herself, answering a reporter's question by asserting that voters were to blame:

"Well, the voters for getting in line, maybe us for not having enough voting places."

Last Wednesday, during a county board meeting Purcell changed her tune by taking responsibility. But this is not enough.

Purcell's outrageous decision to close 140 of 200 polling places disenfranchised marginalized communities from the voting process. For voters who were able to travel long distances to one of these polling places, many were turned away.

For decades, Arizona has been at the forefront of voter suppression -- disenfranchising Black and Latino communities.  During last Tuesday's primary, it happened again, as some areas largely populated by residents of color had only one polling place or no polling place at all. As Ari Berman in The Nation wrote:
"Election officials said they reduced the number of polling sites to save money -- an ill-conceived decision that severely inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of voters. Previously, Maricopa County would have needed to receive federal approval for reducing the number of polling sites, because Arizona was one of sixteen states where jurisdictions with a long history of discrimination had to submit their voting changes under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act."

"This type of change would very likely have been blocked since minorities comprise 40 percent of Maricopa County’s population and reducing the number of polling places would have left minority voters worse off… But after the Supreme Court gutted the [Voting Rights Act] in 2013, Arizona could make election changes without federal oversight."

"The long lines in Maricopa County last night were the latest example of the disastrous consequences of that [Supreme Court] decision."
Many Republican officials, charged with the responsibility of election oversight, continually work to restrict access to voting by closing polls, misinforming voters, and enacting Voter ID laws -- creating frustration, fear, and vulnerability for many communities.

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