Something went very wrong with the Arizona primary voting process on Tuesday. There were reports of long lines that were miles long, people waiting in line for over five hours, registered voters who were told that they were no longer registered, and voting results announced prior to polls closing. This was textbook voter suppression, and we may never know how many people did not get to vote.
Here we focus on the stories of voters from Arizona who shared their experience with Progressive Army. While these accounts are anecdotal in nature, a theme in their experiences does emerge.
Kasaundra Medina, a Bernie Sanders supporter, was a first time voter. She registered in January and updated her party affiliation from “No Party” to a Democrat in February so she could vote in the Democratic primary. Medina points out that she even checked her voter information the night prior to voting to ensure that her voter information was accurate. When she got to the identification check at the front of the line, the clerk informed her that she was not registered as a Democrat and would have to cast a provisional ballot. Arizona is a closed primary, and only registered Democrats, Republicans or Greens can vote. The clerk explained that her registration “hadn’t been updated in the system” and she was given a provisional ballot.
Like many voters, Medina had no idea what a provisional ballot was, and the clerk explained that provisional ballots are counted manually. Medina says, “I still can’t shake the feeling that my vote may not be counted.”
Unlike standard ballots, provisional ballots are counted after Election Day. The Clerk’s office will determine the registration status within two weeks after the election, and the vote will be counted if the voter’s registration as a Democrat is confirmed. Voters like Medina are concerned that if these errors are not addressed in time, their right to vote may be suppressed.
This was not an isolated case. Yovana Nieto, from Phoenix, tells the Progressive Army that she is very certain that her vote was deliberately suppressed. Nieto, who was not affiliated with any party previously, registered as a Democrat more than a month in advance to ensure that she would able to participate in the political process and vote in the Democratic primary. She checked her standings several times in three separate government websites: Maricopa County Recorder, Arizona Secretary of State and CanIVote.org; all confirming her affiliation as a Democrat. Yet, when she went to cast her vote, she was told that she was not registered as a Democrat and had to cast a provisional ballot. She says, “It’s absolutely unconstitutional that they have the chance to be able to get away with the injustice that was done to millions in yesterday’s primary.”
Ben, a voter from Maricopa County, didn’t need to change his affiliation; he was always a registered Democrat. He voted successfully in November and checked his registration a week before the registration deadline in February. When he went to the polling location to vote, he was told that his registration shows that he is not affiliated to any party. Ben was given a provisional ballot but “was told that it wouldn’t count.” Ben is a Bernie Sanders supporter but says that many other voters faced the same problem.
Andrea Osteen shared her experience in the very long lines at her polling location in Maricopa County. She arrived at her polling location around 6:30 pm. Osteen’s first problem, which only grew worse over time, was finding a parking spot. She was then subjected to stand in line for 4 hours and 38 minutes.
Osteen explains that many people were concerned that they may not be allowed to vote after all. The line was so far away from the polling place and they had no idea how long the process would take. She said people seemed resigned to a long wait and that in the early part of her wait, there was a “sort of grin and bear it” atmosphere. Some volunteers brought out cases of water and a family came around with snacks and chocolate. “Much later,” Osteen said, “someone near us bought 10 cheeseburgers and shared them.”
Just before 7 p.m. Osteen reports that a poll volunteer walked to the back of the line and assured the voters that they could vote as long as they were in line by 7 p.m. A police car was there with the poll volunteer initially, but left. Some people were turned away at that point. Osteen says that she estimates that at least a 100 people behind her left without voting. Two women who were in front of Osteen left about an hour into the long wait. Osteen said, “It was hard to tell who were visitors to people in line and who were actually leaving [sic] line (people came bringing food and jackets throughout the night).”
Osteen points out that she believes more people did stay in the line than gave up. She did not notice anyone struggling to stay but noted that many people had folding chairs and there was a low wall that people sat on to rest. Osteen says, “Many people talked about needing to use the restroom [sic] some around me walked to a gas station down the street.”
As the time went by, Osteen said the crowd got quieter and there were fewer conversations with strangers. She said she didn’t feel there was tension in the air but that people were tired. More people talked on their phones rather than to each other. Some started to complain that their progress seemed to slow down more as time went on.
Osteen said, “there also seemed to be a solid determination” and “people were going to stick it out.”
After over 4 hours in line, Osteen was finally able to cast her vote. She pointed out that she did not have any issues casting her ballot, but she noted that there were only 7 voting “stands” and 12 volunteers to check everyone in. Osteen said, “It took longer to get checked through than to actually vote.”
Osteen told me that she did not witness anyone being denied their right to vote but argues that the traffic and parking congestion could be partly to blame for some people who were not able to get in the line by the 7pm cutoff time.
Osteen believes strongly that “it was a Republican lead initiative to discourage voters, especially minorities and impoverished voters” when the decision to cut polling locations from 200 in 2012 to 60 in 2016 was made. She said, “Maricopa County is very diverse in terms of race and class, and our county had the worst polling place-to-voter ratio.”
One common theme in the stories is that all of these issues happened in Maricopa County. In a Fox10 News interview with Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, the reporter asked for an explanation for the issues that voters of Maricopa County faced. Purcell blamed the voters and suggested that they should have voted early.
Arizona Governor Ducey stated that what happened at the polls was “unacceptable” and issued a statement stating that people should be allowed to vote and their vote should be counted.
— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) March 23, 2016
District 29 Arizona State Senator Martín Quezada also Tweeted his outrage at the situation.
— Sen. Martín Quezada (@SenQuezada29) March 22, 2016
Bernie Sanders called this situation a “national disgrace”
It’s a national disgrace that people have to wait hours to cast a vote in any election.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 23, 2016
Mayor of Phoenix, Greg Stanton, calls for Department of Justice investigation of the voting disaster.
The white house must respond to a petition requesting Obama’s administration to “investigate the voter fraud and voter suppression in Arizona 3/22/2016 Democratic Party” after it received over 100,000 signatures.
Hillary Clinton, who won the Arizona Primary, has not commented on this situation and didn’t respond to our request for comment.