PHOENIX (CN) - The mayor of Phoenix has asked the Justice Department to investigate long lines during Tuesday's presidential preference election in Maricopa County that forced voters to wait up to five hours before placing a vote.
The wait was caused after Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, a Republican, decreased the number of polling sites from 200 in 2012 to 60 on Tuesday in an effort to save money. There are 1.2 million eligible voters in Maricopa County, resulting in an average of one polling place for every 21,000 voters.
To put that number in perspective, Pima County, the state's second-most populous county, had 130 polling sites for 300,000 eligible voters.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton wrote a letter Wednesday to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking the Justice Department to launch an investigation into the delays.
"This is unacceptable anywhere in the United States, and I am angry that county elections officials allowed it to happen in my city," Stanton wrote.
"[I]n Phoenix, a majority-minority city, county officials allocated one polling location for every 108,000 residents," Stanton continued. "The ratios were far more favorable in predominately Anglo communities: In Cave Creek/Carefree, there was one polling location for 8,500 residents; in Paradise Valley, one for 13,000 residents; in Fountain Hills, one for 22,500 residents; and in Peoria, one for every 54,000 residents."
"I take full responsibility for what happened yesterday," Purcell said at a meeting of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday. Purcell was first elected as recorder in 1988.
Purcell's admission of responsibility Wednesday was a change in tune from Tuesday night, when she told a Fox 10 reporter that "voters getting in line" were responsible for the long lines.
This is not the first time Purcell, who is running for re-election, has come under fire.
In 2012, her office published about 50 Spanish-language Voter IDs and bookmarks that stated Election Day was Nov. 8, two days after the actual election. At the time she said her office would launch an "aggressive" campaign to make sure Spanish speakers knew the correct election date.
Until the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Maricopa County would have been required to seek approval from federal authorities before changing election procedures or district lines because Arizona is one of 16 states with a history of discriminatory practices.
Myrna Perez, director of voting rights and election projects for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, told Courthouse News it's hard to say if the Voting Rights Act would have stopped Purcell's plan to decrease the number of polling sites.
"I don't think it's as clean as saying the Voting Rights Act wouldn't have let this happen," Perez said. "The fact that it would have made someone sift through it and look at the numbers - that might have changed the outcome because someone might have figured out it wasn't a good idea."
Perez says it's unacceptable for voters to experience such long lines.