Ordinarily, the most interesting thing about an election day is the results showing who won and who lost. But this week, with many watching the Arizona primary closely, the big surprise had nothing to do with the vote tallies and everything to do with the voting lines.
MSNBC’s Zach Roth reported that some Arizonans were forced to wait as long as five hours to cast a primary ballot.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, called the long lines in Maricopa County “unacceptable,” adding: “Our election officials must evaluate what went wrong and how they make sure it doesn’t happen again.” An editorial in the Arizona Republic called the lines “shameful.”Some voters in downtown Phoenix reportedly waited until after midnight to cast a ballot, after standing in line since before 7 p.m. A bipartisan presidential panel said in a 2014 report that voters shouldn’t have to wait more than half an hour.
In theory, someone might generously suggest this is the result of stronger-than-expected voter interest. Maybe, the argument goes, Arizonans were so engaged in both parties’ competitive contests that they showed up in droves and completely overwhelmed the system.
Except, that’s not what actually happened. Turnout was strong, but it wasn’t that strong.
So what created this fiasco? As it turns out, Arizona can blame, at least in part, the five conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The most serious problems emerged in Maricopa County, easily the state’s most populous county, which slashed the number of available precincts dramatically, forcing a large number of voters into a smaller group of polling places. Local officials made the decision to save money.
Except, as Rachel noted on the show last night, there’s a direct line between the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act and this week’s developments. The Nation’s Ari Berman had a good piece on this yesterday.
Previously, Maricopa County would have needed to receive federal approval for reducing the number of polling sites, because Arizona was one of 16 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 make up 40 percent of Maricopa County’s population and reducing the number of polling places would have left minority voters worse off. Section 5 blocked 22 voting changes from taking effect in Arizona since the state was covered under the VRA in 1975 for discriminating against Hispanic and Native American voters.But after the Supreme Court gutted the VRA 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 decision.
As for the road ahead, the Arizona Republic reported today on a Republican state senator who said “she spent more than five hours waiting to vote in the presidential preference election – casting her ballot at 12:20 a.m. Wednesday – plans to introduce legislation to assure Arizona voters won’t endure similar waits in the future.”