Monday morning, the state legislature (in the form of its House Elections Committee) will hold a hearing to look into the fiasco that was the in-person voting process in Arizona's Presidential Preference Election (presidential primary) last Tuesday.
On Tuesday, some voters stood in line for hours (literally!) to cast their ballots. The delays were so long that many national (read: based on the East Coast) MSM operations were literally calling the races here right after showing video of the still-long lines at some of Maricopa County's polling places.
The chief elections officer in Maricopa County, County Recorder Helen Purcell, responded the way that she usually does whenever there are problems with voting in Maricopa County -
She blamed the voters.
Of course, her statement only served to increase the torrent of criticism already being directed her way. By Wednesday, she had backed away from her statement, but the damage had already been done.
While the state legislative hearing is almost certainly going to be a "pro-forma" exercise (lots of talk, little or no substantive action), there is already a call for a federal investigation.
Purcell and her apologists have been trying to spin the mess that she (and they) created as something caused by their quest to save money. They had cut the number of polling places in Maricopa County from 200 to 60 and the larger-than-expected voter turnout then caught them unaware.
Something like this actually happens every couple of years here in Maricopa County, just more isolated (2012, 2010, the pushing of easily disenfranchised voters toward provisional ballots during every election. etc.)
Every couple of years, there are reports of long lines and ballot shortages at one or another polling place (or places).
Which doesn't actually sound too bad, until you remember two things:
1. Election problems may only occur here every couple of years, but elections only take place every couple of years. In other words, there are issues with every election here, and those problems are always blamed on the voters (the one exception that I can think of: In 2012, her office was caught giving out Spanish-language election information pamphlets that listed the wrong election date (English language versions had the correct date).
For that one, she just minimized the impact of her office's "mistake", saying that it didn't matter because it affected few voters.
2. The areas affected by the problems are usually (OK, seemingly "always") heavily minority populated or otherwise Democratic-leaning.
In a bit of a twist, that second point where she may find some real push-back this time - while the areas most negatively affected by her placement of polling stations this year tended toward being mostly populated by minority populations, some of the polling stations with inordinately long lines were in Republican-leaning, Anglo-populated, areas.
Because of that, many of the state's Republican elected officials are already throwing her under the proverbial PR bus. People like Governor Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Michelle Reagan, persons heretofore known for their anti-voter sentiments and actions, have soundly criticized Purcell.
They are outraged (OUTRAGED!) that people who might ever support them were inconvenienced by Purcell et. al.
Of course, there was nothing but the sound of crickets emanating from these distinguished personages over Purcell's regular disenfranchisement of ethnic and racial minority voters.
Still, to go along with the general ugliness, there were some intriguing selections for polling places -
- Phoenix, with a population in excess of 1.5 million people had 12 polling places, or one for every 158K residents.
- Fountain Hills, with a population of just over 23K people, had 1 polling place, or one for just over 23K people.
Can you guess which one is home to nativist stalwarts like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and State Senator John Kavanagh, and which one is the ethnically and culturally diverse largest city in Arizona?
Oh, and apparently just to ensure that the friends and neighbors of Arpaio and Kavanagh weren't too inconvenienced by having to travel too far to a polling place, there was another one less than 4 miles away at the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation.
And these weren't the only "curious" choices.
- Avondale, a city with nearly 80K residents, had zero! polling places. Of course the city population is a little more than 50% Hispanic.
- Scottsdale, a city with approximately 230K residents had five polling places, or one for every 46K residents.
Which doesn't sound too bad...until you look at the fact that of the five polling stations, four were in north Scottsdale (north of Shea Boulevard, the high-influence, deep-pockets area of the city) while the one station located in south Scottsdale was actually located in the community center of the Salt River Pima/Maricopa Indian Community. A place that has a Scottsdale mailing address, but isn't physically located *in* Scottsdale.
And approximately 45% of Scottsdale's population lives in the southern 12% of the land area of the city (aka -south of Shea Boulevard).
- Gila Bend, with a population of 1922, had three polling places, which sounds great...until you realize that Gila Bend is in the freakin' middle of nowhere. People standing in long lines at other polling places would have had to drive more than an hour to get there.
For example, the distance from the Mountain View Lutheran Church (the southernmost polling place in Phoenix) to the Gila Bend Town Hall (one of the three polling places in Gila Bend) -
Historically, there have been more than a few observers who have opined that when faced with a ****up as big as this, one should not presume that there was malicious intent at work when the situation can be chalked up to simple bad judgement or stupidity.
I try to follow that guideline, but when it comes to sustained "stupidity" from people who aren't stupid (and make no mistake, while I think that Purcell is a very bad elections officer, she isn't stupid, not by a long shot), I tend to be very judgemental -
It's time for Helen Purcell and her hangers-on/enablers to go away. The people of Maricopa County deserve and need someone in that office who will work for all of the people of the county, not just the ones in preferred areas.
Some of the sources of information for this post:
US Census data
List of polling places in Maricopa County, from the website of the Maricopa County Recorder
Voter registration figures, by city, in Maricopa County, from the website of the Maricopa County Recorder