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Home » Constitutional Law » Voter Suppression In Arizona’s Presidential Primary

Voter Suppression In Arizona’s Presidential Primary

A badge reading "your vote counts" with a red cross over it floats above an Arizona landscapeTuesday’s presidential primaries saw votes cast in the first of many western states for both the Democratic and Republican parties. After weeks of primaries mostly taking place in the deep south, Americans and the rest of the world watched eagerly as voters cast their ballots in Arizona (primary) and Utah (caucus). Additionally, Democrats caucused in Idaho, where Republicans in the state had already thrown their lot in with Ted Cruz. The third contest for Republicans on Tuesday took place in the American Samoa.

Now, if you’ve even been remotely paying attention to the news surrounding Tuesday’s primaries, it’s probable that you know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that Arizona was a disaster — across the board. People are angry, and their sentiment is not unreasonable.

There have been widespread cries of “voter suppression,” and even though, at first glance, such accusations might seem like the whiny lamentations of sore losers, there’s actually a disturbing amount of evidence backing these claims. Let’s talk about them.

Exhibit A: The Lines

One of the most annoying part about elections is the fact that they often occur in the middle of the work week, when people are at… work. So when voters take time out of their employment obligations to head to the polling stations, they understandably expect procedures to run efficiently, if for no other reason than to accommodate countless the Americans sacrificing a portion of their week’s earnings — just to exercise their legal rights as United States citizens.

Arizona was not even sort of accommodating to that end. If you Google “voter suppression,” you’ll find a bunch of headlines about the fiasco in Arizona. Voters there waited hours in lines under a harsh sun, many of them only to be told that they were not “registered democrats” and therefore ineligible to vote in the primaries. We’ll come back to that in a bit.

Four-hour wait times. Five-hour wait times. Either number is ridiculous. One county seemed to have it the worst, and guess what? It was Maricopa County, the most populous in Arizona, home to the state’s capitol city of Phoenix. What in the fuck happened?

The answer lies, at least partially, in a few simple numbers:

In 2012, Maricopa County had more than 200 polling locations open to voters during primary elections.

In 2016, Maricopa County shrank that number down to 60.

What this boiled down to was a whopping average of 20,000 voters at each polling location.

Here’s some more numbers:

In 2012, Maricopa County saw around 300,000 voters turn out (to their 200 polling locations).

In 2016, Maricopa County had around 800,000 voters turn out (to their 60 polling locations).

Want more? Like it or not, here you go:

Pima County, which is approximately 1/3 the size of Maricopa County in terms of population, had about 130 polling locations open in 2016.

So! When you hear angry people discussing Arizona’s primaries and saying things like, “WHAT THE FUCK,” this is probably what they’re talking about.

How Did This Happen?

That’s the question many were asking after it became apparent that the primaries were turning into some sort of fever dream. How did Arizona’s government drop the ball that hard? Who’s to blame? Can we even blame anybody?

Actually, yes.

Arizona elections are facilitated by state officials known as “county recorders.” These people decide how many polling locations get to be open on election day. The county recorder for Maricopa County is a lady named Helen Purcell.

When approached by a reporter, Purcell was at first defensive about how shitty of a job she did. She explained that voter turnout had been getting lower over the years, so she shrank the number of polling locations in order to save money. But first she blamed the voters for showing up.

She’s taken full responsibility for the royal fuckup since this interview, but honestly, that shouldn’t make anybody feel better… not that anyone seems particularly consoled. Sometimes when a person makes a mistake, they can promise to do better next time and that’s okay. But this is a presidential election with historically high stakes — “we’ll do better next time” is a repulsively unacceptable response.

Exhibit B: The Latino Vote

Or rather, the “lack thereof.” Because this was another mistake Helen Purcell made when deciding how many polling locations to establish and where to establishh them: she somehow forgot the Latino communities.

Surely not, you might say. Surely YES, says the record.

Despite Phoenix’s population alone (1.5 million) being 40.8% Latino, Maricopa County failed to provide appropriate access to polling locations in some of the areas with the highest Latino population. State Senator Martin Quezada called this “problematic,” and gave an account supporting accusations that the Latino vote was suppressed:

“In my district, there is only one polling place. In my neighboring district, LD 30, there are no polling places.”

And that’s not all, folks.

Exhibit C: “Provisional Ballots”

What a farce to even call these “ballots.” More than that, what an un-American way to use them. I’ll explain:

In Arizona, primaries are closed, which means that independent voters don’t get a voice in these elections. Even so, countless people have gone out of their way to register themselves this year so they could legally have a say. But while the sun was cooking Arizona voters in their 5-hour lines, some were shocked to be informed that they wasted their days for nothing.

Yet again, Arizona’s government screwed up massively, although this mistake affected Democrats in particular. Voters were being turned away from polling locations even after waiting hours in line, because according to county records, they weren’t registered as Democrats. Yes — Arizona was so incompetent in their record-keeping that they screwed up the credentials of innumerable registered Democrats… and robbed them of their votes.

I’m not just talking about people who were independents until a few months ago. Lifelong Democrats were on record as “independents,” or “no party listed.” Some registered Democrats even reported being listed as “libertarians.” And all these people, mislabeled by no fault of their own, were forced to cast “provisional ballots.”

Provisional ballots are not counted, aka, they are meaningless. These were given as placebos, probably with the intent to pacify angry voters by encouraging a false hope that their voice might be heard. How do we know this? Because county recorders gave polling locations a script that explicitly says it:

script for polling locations during Arizona Democratic primaries

Exhibit D: Unfairly Premature Democratic Results

If you were keeping up with the primary results last night, maybe you remember the way they were released. With 1% of precincts reporting, the associated press almost immediately declared Hillary Clinton the winner — even as voters were still waiting in those 5-hour lines.

If people gave up after that, who can blame them? Why cast a vote when you know, apparently, that your side has already lost?

This is probably one of the most nefarious fouls of Arizona’s 2016 primaries.

It’s no secret that mainstream media outlets are largely in support of Hillary Clinton. That’s why we’re always seeing articles about Donald Trump being an asshole, and how it’s absolutely crucial that Republicans don’t with the election, that Hillary Clinton is the inevitable Democratic nominee, so “Sorry Bernie Sanders — it’s time for you to give up.”

It’s also why we don’t hear much of anything about Clinton’s possible indictment, or the tremendous lack of trust Americans feel toward her, or all those gaffes she’s been having that just can’t seem to get very high in Google’s search-engine rankings.

With all this in mind, it’s hard, very hard, not to raise an eyebrow at the media’s desperation to call this race in Hillary Clinton’s favor. They’re ignoring or don’t care about unfair election processes and voter suppression — just as long as they’re not hurting their favorite candidate.

If you still need another reason why it was unfair for the associated press to call Arizona’s primary for Clinton before voters were finished voting, it’s your lucky day!

The reason they were able to call it in Clinton’s favor, in spite of the fact that only 1% of precincts were reporting, is early voting. All the votes people mailed in since early voting began were able to be counted pretty quickly, since they were already there.

Before you say “so what?”, think about what early voting means in the context of this particular race. It means that a whole heck of a lot of those votes were cast before the primaries started — before people really knew who Bernie Sanders was. These were votes people made while he was just a blip on the radar and Clinton was still on track for a coronation.

This isn’t just a problem specific to Arizona’s primaries. Next time you’re waiting for the results of a Democratic primary that allows early voting, pay attention to the order in which results are released to us, the public. If you do, you’ll maybe notice a pattern: Clinton almost always has a sizable margin of victory… at first. Aside from states that heavily favor Sanders, you can feel pretty confident that Clinton will be in the lead with “1% of precincts reporting.”

Voting Rights In America

There’s a popular response to the Arizona primaries fiasco, and I’ll echo it: voting is an American right and NOT a privilege. It’s literally the government’s job to ensure that all citizens are guaranteed the opportunity to have their voices heard in any election, presidential or otherwise. So when incidents like this happen, it’s understandable that angry Americans start asking the government to explain itself — and more importantly — to fix the problem.

If you’re feeling suspicious about Arizona’s primaries, for instance, you can sign this petition demanding that the White House investigate what seems to be blatant voter suppression. And if you feel that your constitutional right to participate in America’s democratic process has been infringed, then you certainly have grounds to take such a violation to the courtroom.

At Turner Law Offices, P.C., our team of attorneys has years of experience working with clients across a wide range of cases involving violations of constitutional rights. As a citizen of the United States, you need no justification to ensure that our nation’s founding principles are upheld by those entrusted with their protection. Call today, or go online to set up your free initial consultation, and meet with a skilled lawyer who’s ready and waiting to guide you toward the justice you deserve.

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