SOME ARIZONA residents waited in line for as long as five hours before they were able to cast ballots in Tuesday’s primaries. Others were so discouraged by the long lines and parking lot gridlock that they gave up without voting. Grilled about the debacle, one election official suggested that voters might have brought it on themselves by not opting to vote early. Such nonchalance, combined with the fact that the areas most affected were predominantly Latino, is an embarrassment and should prompt Arizona officials — as well as those in other states — to assess how prepared their localities are for this year’s critical presidential election.
The problems that saw some Arizona voters still standing in line at midnight have been traced to decisions to cut back on the number of polling places as a way to save money. In Maricopa County, the largest in the state with about 4.2 million people and home to Phoenix, officials reduced the number of places to vote from 200 in 2012 to 60 on Tuesday. That’s one polling place for every 21,000 voters.
Critics were quick to fault the Republican-led state government for intentionally aiming to suppress minority votes. “It is no coincidence many poor and predominantly Latino areas didn’t get a polling place,” wrote Arizona Republic columnist Elvia Díaz, reporting that Democrats for weeks had sounded the alarm about insufficient resources. Also lamented was the loss of federal protections for minority voters as a result of the Supreme Court decision in 2013 that gutted the Voting Rights Act by allowing Arizona and other states with discriminatory histories to change election procedures without federal oversight.
The five-hour waits experienced this week by Arizona voters are extreme, but long lines have become a sad feature of U.S. elections. In the District this month, voters in the Republican primary had to stand in a three-block-long line before casting their ballots in an election the party was forced to pay for. After the 2012 election, President Obama convened a commission that found that 10 million people waited longer than half an hour to vote. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law did a 2014 study that found a lack of poll workers, poor planning and low numbers of voting machines as key contributors to long lines. The study, which examined three states that had some of the longest waits in 2012, showed that precincts with more minorities experienced longer delays.
Representative democracy is the heartbeat of this country, so it makes no sense that with so much at stake, elections are conducted on the cheap with too few workers, with little training and using outmoded equipment. It’s time — before polls open in November — to make sure that the resources are in place so that every voter is able to cast a ballot in a timely manner.