Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Arizona Voters Let Elections Officials Have It

PHOENIX (CN) - After waiting in line for five hours, Arizonans were "hosed" by sprinklers and told they couldn't vote at all in last week's presidential primary, an angry crowd told lawmakers Monday in a tense hearing called to address the bungled process in Maricopa County.

The hearing, which lasted more than three hours, was called by the Arizona House of Representatives Special Elections Committee to hear from the public after voters in the state's largest county were forced to brave five-hour long lines on March 22.

Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell cut the number of polling sites from 200 in 2012 to 60 in this year.

Dean Palmer, an Air Force veteran, described a chaotic scene at his polling site.

"On came the sprinklers, and the people there in wheelchairs, they got hosed," Palmer said. "People that were crying, people that were in pain, and they could not handle the wait, and they left."

Danny Robinson told the committee he was there on behalf of his daughter.

"[Election workers] told her she wasn't a Democrat anymore, that she was an Independent and she wasn't going to be able to vote," Robinson said, wearing a Bernie Sanders hat. "I want justice for my daughter. I want a re-vote."

Independents are not allowed to vote in Arizona's presidential preference election. A large number of complaints have been lodged by voters who say they were forced to fill out a provisional ballot last week because they were identified as an Independent at the polling site, despite knowing or thinking they were registered Democrat or Republican.

While some speakers asked for a revote, others demanded that Purcell, a Republican, resign.

"How dare you blame us for this!" shouted Patrick Seifter. "To those officials who failed us, you must show integrity and resign. ... We will be back every election, every vote, holding you all accountable."

Redeem Robinson, pastor at the All Nations Temple in Tucson, repeatedly called for Purcell's resignation.

"Helen Purcell, you really ought to resign. I mean, really. You should consider resigning after what you have done to the community," Robinson said. "How can we call the winner when there are thousands of people still in line? How does that happen?"

Arizona election officials can announce a winner after 8 p.m., or when all precincts have reported results, whichever comes first.

Senator Bernie Sanders lost Arizona to Hillary Clinton, who won 58 percent of the vote. Donald Trump won 47 percent as Republican presidential candidate.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has asked the Justice Department to investigate the delays .

The committee also heard testimony from Purcell and Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan.

"I want to begin again by apologizing for what took place," Purcell said. "I am deeply sorry; it was my responsibility."

Rep. Jonathan Larkin, D-Glendale, asked Purcell if she took into consideration the number of people who have attended rallies for presidential candidates and the interest in the election season. Larkin is the only committee member who has called for Purcell's resignation.

"We set up the polling places way in advance of an election," Purcell said. "As I have said before, I apologize profusely for those polling locations for being inadequate."

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, hammered on Purcell's decision to reduce the number of polling sites by 70 percent.

"Are you saying that the main factor in coming up with the 60 is you didn't anticipate the increased turnout?" asked Ugenti-Rita, the committee chair. "Tell me again what specifically made you come up with 60 as an appropriate number?"

Purcell said she came up with the number by looking at the increased number of people eligible for the permanent early voter list and by wanting to downsize the number of sites to spend less money on the election.

"You are getting a $1.25 reimbursement rate for Independents who are not allowed to vote," Ugenti-Rita said.

"Were there people showing up not knowing they were registered Independent?" asked Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler. "What we don't want is people showing up in line believing they are registered to a party. ... We have to track that down."

"The point is they never should have done a provisional ballot to begin with," Ugenti-Rita said. "Do you see how messed up this is?"

Secretary of State Michele Reagan, a Republican, mirrored Purcell's apologies.

"I would to apologize profusely to the voters who are frustrated and angry with the election experience they had last Tuesday," Reagan said. "Call us any name you want, but I want to hear the frustrations."

Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, expressed incredulity that Reagan's office does not devote more money to educating the public on voter laws.

"[Voters] want to know and understand that in a state with a very confusing primary ... why is it the secretary of state does not have a larger line item for education?" Clark asked.

Reagan announced last week that her office will hold several public hearings about the bungled election.

Steve Gallardo, a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, parroted Clark's request for voter education when speaking to the committee.

"I was out there at most of these polling places and there were a number of people who were disenfranchised, bottom line," Gallardo said. "They did everything they were supposed to do. ... These aren't new issues."

Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, reamed Gallardo for approving Purcell's plan to decrease the number of polling sites.

"It was a unanimous vote by your board to go forward with this plan," Weninger said. "There wasn't anyone who said no."

The committee broke for a recess at 1:30 p.m., and Rep. Clark encouraged the public to move over to the House gallery. House proceedings took a recess soon after they were interrupted by protesters.

One protester, a man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, was arrested for trespassing after he refused to leave the gallery.

Guy Fawkes famously tried to blow up the English Parliament in the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. He was discovered and hung, drawn and quartered.

Follow @jamierossCNS
Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.