Arizona’s primary election scandal on Tuesday of this week has been reported internationally. I assume that anyone who follows the news knows about it. In the City of Phoenix, press reports indicate that people waited in line as long as five hours to vote. The polls officially closed at 7 pm, but voting rules require that anyone in line at closing time be allowed to vote. It was close to midnight before everyone had an opportunity to vote. However, some polling places ran out of ballots, adding to the frustration of those who wanted to cast votes, and others simply gave up after waiting hours to no avail. Is it a coincidence that voters in Democratic-leaning Phoenix had trouble voting in a Republican-dominated state?
The problem only occurred in Maricopa County and more specifically in Phoenix, its capital. Phoenix has an ethnically diverse population with a large Latino population. The surrounding suburbs, taken together, are overwhelmingly populated by people of European descent.
The population of Phoenix is a bit over 1.5 million and tends to vote Democratic. Maricopa County as a whole has a population of just over four million, and because the suburbanites tend to vote Republican, Republican politicians dominate countywide offices and therefore are able to impose their will on ethnically-diverse Phoenix.
Arizona has a history of racist election politics, which caused its voting practices to be put under federal oversight until the Republican-dominated Supreme Court emasculated the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Before that date, the Arizona and Maricopa Country had to obtain the approval of federal courts to make any changes that would affect voting rights. Now they don’t.
So what did the Republican County Recorder Helen Purcell do with her new freedom to impose voting restrictions? She cut the number of polling places in Maricopa County from 200 in 2012 to only 60 in 2013. That gave Maricopa Country one polling place for every 20,833 voters compared to an average of one for every 2,500 in the rest of Arizona. Most affected was the City of Phoenix, were some neighborhoods with a large minority population had no nearby polling place at all.
Helen Purcell laid the blame for the long lines and the difficulty of voting in Phoenix on the number of unaffiliated voters who stood in line to vote in the primary. In Arizona only Democrats may vote in the Democratic primary and only Republicans can vote in their primary.
Ah, come on, Helen! There is no evidence of that was a large number of independent voters standing in line in Phoenix minority neighborhoods. That is a cop-out to try to shift the blame from yourself to us supposedly ignorant Phoenix residents.
Was Ms. Purcell’s decision to cut polling places done intentionally to reduce minority voting, or was it a result of her incompetence? I don’t know the answer. Often conspiracy theories are used to explain screw-ups committed by dummkopfs who should never have been elected to office. It could be that Ms. Purcell is merely incompetent and did not purposely suppress minority voting. Whichever is the case, she is unqualified to hold her office and should do the decent thing by resigning.
It seems strange that since the Supreme Court watered down the voting rights act, Republican-dominated states such as Arizona with a history of discriminatory voting practices have been making changes to their voting practices that mainly affect minority populations that tend to vote Democratic. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the bad old days of racist voting practices are back again.
As long as the populous Phoenix suburbs are able to dominate Arizona politics, the right-wing Republicans will be able suppress the voting rights of the Democratic-leaning cities of Phoenix and Tucson.