This Tuesday (technically Wednesday morning) in Arizona, Aracely Calderon did not get to cast her ballot until 12:12 am. At first that sounds cool, like the Grand Canyon state instituted a voting version of midnight disco bowling. But that wasn’t the case. Ms. Calderon got in line before the polls closed at 7pm and had to wait over five hours to exercise her democratic rights. As she was waiting in line, multiple outlets declared Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump the winners of the Arizona primaries.
How did this happen?
Some Bernie Sanders supporters are claiming that this was due to fraud orchestrated by the Hillary Clinton campaign, but conspiracy theories aside, we know what actually went down is that Maricopa County (where Phoenix is) reduced polling places in the last four years from 200 to 60. That means just one polling place per every 21,000 voters in Arizona’s most populous county. The county says they did it to save money and because so many residents have started to vote using early ballots.
Initially county officials blamed voters for the long lines, but since then Maricopa County’s highest ranking election official, Recorder Helen Purcell, blamed herself, saying, “I made bad decisions based on the information I had, obviously, or we wouldn’t have had long lines.” Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey criticized Purcell’s actions and suggested that in the future they should open up the state’s primaries to allow independents to participate.
The Nation felt that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act could have prevented these lines. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act - passed in 1965 and renewed many times since - required states and counties with a history of discriminatory voting laws to get federal approval before instituting any changes in local or state guidelines. In fact the federal government blocked 22 different proposed changes to voting in the state of Arizona from 1975 to 2013. But in 2013 the Supreme Court nullified this aspect of the Voting Rights Act. So when the massive Arizona county decided to cut 70% of polling places, they did so without federal oversight.
Adding to the uproar is the argument that these lines affected different groups in different ways. Arizona Republic columnist Elvia Diaz noted, “It is no coincidence many poor and predominantly Latino areas didn’t get a polling place.” If this discrimination did occur, it is the exact type of things the Voting Rights Act was meant to prevent.
So hopefully places like Maricopa County can fix these problems before November. I remember being furious about having to wait in a 45 minute line to vote for president in 2012, I can’t imagine having to wait another 4 hours on top of that.