Angry voters in audience boo and shout, one arrested; Justice Department oversight of Arizona elections again called for
By Phil Riske | Senior Reporter/Writer
(STATE CAPITOL) — Boisterous voters who showed up Monday for a legislative hearing into the March 22 Arizona preferential preference election (PPE) had to wait 90 minutes to testify as the House Elections Committee sought reasons why voters had to stand for hours at many Maricopa County polls.
Committee Chair Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-23) gaveled down the angry and shouting audience numerous times as Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell took committee questions and comments about the election Ugenti described as a ‘debacle.’
Rep. Ken Clark (D-) wanted voters to be allowed to testify first so they didn’t have “to wait in line again.”
Ugenti declined. “I want to hear from Purcell,” she said.
Again, a beleaguered Purcell issued a mea culpa.
“I made a giant mistake,” she said.
“That’s an understatement, Ugenti shot back.
Purcell said evaluation of the 2012 PPE turnout, resulted in a decision to reduce the number of polling places from 200 to 60 this year. Only problem was there was no Democrat primary four years ago.
Also, Purcell acknowledged the county failed to take into account the record turnouts for this year’s PPEs across the nation, nor the interest in the race between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The presidential race “energized thousands of voters,” Clark said.
“We thought we had the best information before us,” Purcell told the committee, adding the county based in part its decisions on the low turnout for the recent Tempe city election.
She said Maricopa County (13 other counties had much lesser problems) did double the number of poll workers.
The county recorder said the Legislature shorted its reimbursement to the counties for this year’s PPE, and Maricopa County budgeted $1.25 for registered voters, including independents, who could not vote in the PPE.
A total of 530,000 people voted in the PPE, 12,000 higher than projected, and 18,000 independents were turned away.
There are two bills in the Legislature to eliminate the country cost of PPEs, proposing the political parties fund them.
After years of having to have its elections pre-cleared by the U.S. Justice Department for voter suppression of minorities, the state was taken off the requirement in 2013.
“That’s what happens” when there’s no pre-clearance, said Clark.
Arizona’s Democratic Party was considering filing a lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act to determine if the county recorder’s actions disenfranchised voters.
Jim Barton, the party’s attorney, said Tuesday’s fiasco largely stemmed from a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key provision of that law.
The provision required Arizona and all or part of 14 other states to get Justice Department approval, or “pre-clearance,” for changes in how they conduct elections.
The county was criticized for informing voters they could vote at any polling place only 13 days before the election.
Secretary of State Michele Reagan, said the state had a few election problems, mostly because of Web site problems, including a post that said 100% of all precincts had reported far before they had. She said The Associated Press created a problem by “doing math” and declaring the winners early evening.
Reagan said here office received 2,000 phone calls from complaining voters.
“ We are not leaving anything on the table,” Reagan said. Election officials are all in this together.”
She said her office would be holding public hearings in the four areas of the Valley that had the most problems.
Two audience members called for Purcell’s resignation, others called for a new election., still others called for a Justice Department investigation of the election. They provided fiery testimony for more than two hours.
“This is a rape and murder of our democracy,” said an unidentified voter.
Jana Stevens of the Arizona Students Association, told the committee she was contacted by a community college student who recently served in the military overseas.
Stevens quoted the student as saying, “I came back from putting my life on the line . . .and the right to vote was taken from me.”
Rev. Jarrett Maupin echoed the call for restoration of The Voting Rights Act.
“We have to deal with what we have,” he said.
Maupin said he met with Purcell, adding she is not going to resign and has not committed a crime. He said she talked to him about increasing polling places by 300 percent, including more African American churches.
Meanwhile, the county is still tabulating provisional ballots.