While the results of last month’s presidential primaries in Arizona were notable in their own right, the lasting significance of the contests has very little to do with who won and who lost.
In Arizona’s most populous area, Maricopa County, some voters were forced to wait as long as five hours to cast a primary ballot. Some in downtown Phoenix were reportedly in line until after midnight, long after polls were supposed to have closed. It wasn’t long before we learned that local officials, hoping to save some money, slashed the number of available precincts dramatically, forcing a large number of voters into a much smaller number of polling places.
In the recent past, the Voting Rights Act might have prevented such a move, but five conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the landmark law, opening the door to the mess Arizonans saw three weeks ago.
This is not, however, one of those instances in which people complain and move on to the next problem. The Washington Post reported yesterday on an important new lawsuit, filed by Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns, targeting the state of Arizona over voters’ access.
The lawsuit, which will be filed on Friday, focuses on Maricopa County, the state’s most populous county, where voters faced the longest lines on March 22 during the Democratic and Republican primaries after the county cut the number of polling places by 85 percent since 2008.Arizona’s “alarmingly inadequate number of voting centers resulted in severe, inexcusable burdens on voters county-wide, as well as the ultimate disenfranchisement of untold numbers of voters who were unable or unwilling to wait in intolerably long lines,” the lawsuit says.
The case, to be filed in federal court, also alleges that the system was “particularly burdensome” on minority communities, and as the Post added, Maricopa County’s black, Hispanic, and Native American communities “had fewer polling locations than white communities and in some cases no places to vote at all.”
The case is being brought specifically by Marc Elias, the Clinton’s campaign elections lawyer, but the litigation is being filed in conjunction with the Sanders campaign, the DNC, the DSCC, and Arizona Democratic Party, several local Arizona residents, and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D), the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate running against John McCain.
If the courts are amenable, it’s likely Arizona’s plan for polling locations in the general election will need to first be approved by a judge before being implemented.
Though Arizona has long been considered a “red” state – it’s voted Republican in each of the last four presidential cycles – many Democratic officials believe the state will be in play in 2016, and Kirkpatrick is positioned to be the most competitive candidate McCain has faced in his lengthy career.