PHOENIX — A meeting on Wednesday to certify primary election results prompted more backlash against Arizona officials over long lines and waits to cast ballots at some polls in Phoenix.
The county’s recorder and elections director adamantly pushed back during the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting against contentions that they disenfranchised poor and minority voters by opening only 60 polling locations in the hotly contested presidential primary.
They also said the decision by the Legislature to cut funding to the county for elections contributed to the problem.
Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the only Democrat on the five-member board, also put the blame on state lawmakers.
“The Legislature needs to take responsibility and fund these elections,” he said.
The other supervisors agreed there was plenty of blame to go around, including their own for agreeing to the plan to cut the number of polling places from 200 in 2012’s presidential primary and from 400 in 2008.
“I think we all share the blame, this body included, but we also share the responsibility going forward that we ask these questions and that we make sure that this is not repeated come May, come August, come November of this year,” Supervisor Steve Chucri said.
“The realness about this situation … is that we voted unanimously for 60 poll sites using our best judgment,” board Chairman Clint Hickman said. “We’re not making an apology for that. We did the best we could, listening to our people doing their jobs correctly.”
Hickman promised the issues wouldn’t be repeated,
The board voted to approve the official canvass, with Gallardo the only no vote.
County officials also blamed some of the delays on the large number of people casting provisional ballots after showing up at the polls registered as an independent.
Only people registered with the Republican, Democrat and Green parties can vote in the presidential primary in Arizona. The process of casting a provisional ballot takes on average about five minutes.
Nearly 25,000 provisional ballots were cast at the polls, and less than 5,000 of those were found to be valid. All told, about 621,000 ballots were counted in the state’s largest county.
Several citizens spoke out about the problems before the county board, but the mood was less tense than two days ago when voters filled the Legislature during a committee hearing on the primary mess.
About 10 people spoke Wednesday, and many said the long lines are eroding their faith in the democratic system.
“This has caused many of the young people that I know and older people that I know to lose faith in our democratic system,” said Phoenix resident Leonard Clark. “And that really breaks my heart.”
Patricia Jayson, who had been a poll worker in previous elections, echoed the thoughts of many that the problems last week were just the latest boosting the impression that Arizona makes it too difficult for poor and minority voters to cast a ballot.
“I am outraged and once again embarrassed by Arizona,” Jayson said. “I’m seeing more and more steps taken to limit voter access, and that I think is a crime – a crime against democracy.”
An attorney for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders urged the board to delay its certification, saying there was evidence that an unknown number of voters had their ballots thrown out because of problems with voter rolls.
Secretary of State Michele Reagan testified before an Arizona House committee Monday that one of her staffers had their party affiliation changed to independent without their knowledge in an apparent glitch by the state Motor Vehicle Department.
“She very clearly admitted that there were people whose voter preference was changed without their knowledge, and that it happened to a staffer in her office,” attorney Chris Sautter said after the meeting.