On the evening of March 22, the residents of Maricopa County, Arizona, left their homes to vote in the Grand Canyon States’ primaries. Little were they aware that excruciatingly long voter lines would obstruct their path as residents scattered the pavements that wended from the bloated polling stations. The evenings polling swiftly descended into farce, leaving many locals without a vote, and seething at the poorly handled event. But, what went wrong, and who was to blame?
Maricopa County Recorder, Helen Purcell, fell on her sword, proclaiming that she “screwed up”. Purcell was responsible for planning polling locations ahead of elections, which were reduced by a whopping 70 percent this year in contrast to the 2012 primaries, from 200 locations to a paltry 60. This was a ludicrous decision – the agency of hindsight is not required. Maricopa County is the most populous statewide, and includes its largest city, Phoenix, which just happens to have a non-white majority and is predominantly a Democratic Elysium situated within a Republican Nirvana.
To put things in perspective, four years ago 300,000 citizens voted compared to the 800,000 that were trying to cast their ballots last month. Looking at it from another angle: there was one polling facility for every 21,000 voters, compared with one facility for every 2,500 voters throughout the rest of the state. This is a serious oversight particularly with the knowledge that this years primaries have been acerbically divisive, resulting in huge voter turnout nationwide, it is simply deplorable that this was allowed to happen.
Purcell nonchalantly claimed afterward that the number of polling stations reflected the early voting lists and that one third of the people registered in the county could not officially mark a ballot, as they were Independents. The latter is an unfortunate, obstructive by-product of Arizona’s closed primary system in which one must be registered to vote for a designated party.
Much to the chagrin of many Independent voters (who have the option to change, or choose a party at the time of voting), many were left disillusioned as they were turned away upon reaching the top of the lengthy queues. Some were given provisional ballots, or simply told that their votes would not be counted, fueling the frustration.
In the aftermath of the fiasco and bearing in mind that many Independents would have voted for Bernie Sanders if they had been given the opportunity, a whitehouse.gov petition emerged that charged voter fraud and voter suppression in Arizona. As of April 8, there have been 213,306 signatures meaning that the White House is required to provide an official response (the threshold being 100,000 signatures).
What transpired at the polling stations across Maricopa County is hardly a new phenomenon, yet it serves as a useful, and worrying precedent. The Mayor of Phoenix, Greg Stanton, illuminated the saliency of the issue and disparaged the lack of organisation. He expounded that the allocation of stations was more favourable in predominately Anglo communities and that there were fewer voting locations in parts of the county with greater minority populations.
Furthermore, Stanton highlighted the plight of poorer voters, “if you’re a single mother with two kids, you’re not going to wait for hours, you’re going to leave that line,” he added that “tens of thousands of people were deprived of the right to vote.” This iniquity is nestled in the bosom of voting bulwarks that have been mainly constructed by the GOP across the United States in recent years.
Leading the way with such studies is the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Michael Waldman, president of the center, argues that Republicans have been positioning to pass laws around the U.S. with the end goal of making it more difficult and convoluted for people to cast their vote. According to the Brennan Centre, in 2016 17 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. These new laws vary, from strict photo ID requirements, to early voting cutbacks, to registration restrictions.
Some of the more punitive and heterogeneous cases feature an amendment in Texas that stipulates residents must show a state or federal issued form of ID to vote, or that the only ID issuing office in Sauk City, Wisconsin, is open 8:15am to 4:00pm on the fifth Wednesday of each month (there are only 4 fifth Wednesdays this year).
The presentation of relevant identification at polling stations was the cause of puzzlement during the Wisconsin primaries last Tuesday evening. Wisconsin has been thrust centre stage over the last few weeks as it became apparent that Governor Scott Walker (formerly of the presidential hopeful parish) signed a bill into law that would make it harder for the poor and minorities to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election. The new legislation will allow Wisconsinites to register to vote online.
While this sounds like a positive step in the right direction, many community organisers, such as the the League of Women Voters, et al, have argued that it will disenfranchise the poor or marginalised as these groups are more likely to register through voter registration drives. There are other obstacles that face these groups too, such as the lack of a driver’s license.
Historically, a larger voter turnout for presidential elections has favoured the Democratic nominee, a philosophy that the Sanders’ campaign has firmly grasped. That being said, high turnouts this primary season for Donald Trump have helped catapult him to the top of the withering GOP tree. Yet, it is apparent that the GOP establishment is holding out hope for a contested RNC. The abjectly handled primaries in Arizona, and Wisconsin on Tuesday evening are telltale signs of an ominous portend for the general election in November. Voter suppression is a cog in a larger machine that asphyxiates the very fabric of American ideals, a moralistic tapestry that continues to fray with much contrition.