The Arizona primary that took place on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, is facing a firestorm of criticism.
The state steeply cut the number of polling places for this election, due to officials’ predictions of low turnout and high mail-in votes, but also as a means to reduce costs. In 2012, Maricopa County (one of Arizona’s most populous) had 200 voting locations; on Tuesday there were but 60, meaning one location for every 21,000 voters. This led to enormous lines: voters reported waiting over 5 hours to vote, some past midnight.
Some areas dominated by Latinos had a single polling place, others none at all. “In my district, there is only one polling place,’’ state senator Martin Quezada wrote. “In my neighboring district, LD 30, there are no polling places.” Elvia Diaz slammed election officials for not providing voting places for communities based on prior voting patterns in an op-ed for the Arizona Republic:
“We were looking for locations that were larger so we could have more people in them,” [Maricopa County Recorder] Helen Purcell said. “We decided that you could go anyplace which we’ve never done before. So we looked at an area, and factored into that how many early ballots we usually get in that area and how many people normally vote at the polls. We didn’t look at it as legislative districts. We looked at the overall picture of our voters.”
So, it is no coincidence many poor and predominantly Latino areas didn’t get a polling place. Purcell and her staff figured few of them vote anyway.
Purcell says she “screwed up,” but refuses to resign.
It is unknown how many residents decided not to vote or left a polling place before voting due to the enormous lines and long wait times. Hillary Clinton was declared the winner by the press at about 8:30 p.m. Arizona time, which critics say likely caused more people to abandon their struggle to vote.
There were also voters mistakenly listed as “independent,” “no party,” or “libertarian” — even people registered as Democrats for a very long time — due to software problems. As Arizona is a closed primary, these residents were not allowed to vote. They were given “provisional ballots” instead — yet provisional ballots are not counted if one is listed as an independent, libertarian, or no party affiliation.
Arizona Republic reported:
“In Coconino County, they’re handing them out like candy,” [Maricopa County Elections Director Karen] Osborne said of the provisional ballots.
Yesenia Alteres, 18, waited for more than 20 minutes in a line that wrapped around the Maryvale polling place. Alteres was prepared to cast her first-ever vote in a presidential race, unaware that as a registered independent her vote would not be tallied in the presidential primary.
An organizer broke the news to her when she reached the front of the line.
Alteres said she would have voted for Sanders.
A petition to the Obama Administration quickly popped up, declaring:
Numerous voters who switched from Independent to Democrat could not vote and were turned away or given provisional ballots which in turn were never counted. We the people of the United States of America find this act alarming and would like a complete investigation to uncover the violations that occurred during the Arizona voting on 3/22/2016 and prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law.
On Wednesday, the mayor of Phoenix called for the Justice Department to investigate.
Bernie Sanders called the primary a “national disgrace.”
It is unclear how drastically these issues affected the outcome (Clinton ended up with 58% of the vote, Sanders with 40%). As Heavy put it:
So far, most of the complaints are coming from people who wanted to vote for Bernie Sanders. They are alleging that if this wasn’t a technical problem or a glitch, perhaps a demographic was targeted or people on a donation list were targeted. However, it’s also possible that Hillary Clinton voters simply aren’t reporting problems they had since she was the winner in Arizona, therefore they have little motivation to complain about difficulties they encountered.
There are plenty of Clinton opponents calling foul, as it is well-known independent voters favor Sanders by massive margins and also appeals to Latinos.
One writer was enraged that Hillary was declared the winner with less than 1% of the vote reported and with many voters still waiting in line. He also drew attention to an NBC News report that showed 60% of early, mail-in voters were older women likely putting Hillary Clinton ahead, allegedly providing an incentive for the Clinton campaign to create low turnout on election day, keeping Bernie’s supporters — men and youths (as well as independents and Latinos) — away from the polls. NBC News said:
The early vote by women is dominated by older age groups. Voters under 30 account for only 7 percent of Democratic early voters compared to 41 percent for the over 65 crowd. The large number of women, particularly older women, who have already cast Democratic ballots, is a good sign for Hillary Clinton.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition had over 60,000 signatures. It needs 100,000 to receive an official reply from the White House.