Cassie Ronda

Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016

Early morning voting lines ease after initial rush, few computer problems

PHOENIX – Arizonans were ready to vote when the polls opened at 6 a.m. with several locations across the city seeing long lines as voters hoped to cast their ballots before the work day started.

After a few computer issues and lines approaching an hour, the polling places seemed to be catching up to the crowds in mid-morning.

Check-in computers in the Pueblo precinct crashed as soon as the polling place opened, according to Arizona voter John Washington. He said poll workers were able to get one computer functioning, but by then the line of voters wrapped around the block.

In some cases, the county recorder’s office assigned two precinct polling places to the same location, causing some confusion and frustration among voters on arrival. Spokesperson Elizabeth Bartholomew said there is one polling place for every precinct, but they utilize co-location when certain precincts lack suitable facilities to host a polling place. Even when two polling places share an address, each precinct has different sets of poll workers and electronic poll books, she said.

At Maryvale Church of the Nazarene. There are lines currently running out of the building, but not much farther. The parking lot is crawling with reporters from Vice, KPNX, Arizona 15 and other news networks.

Adrian Fontes, the Democratic nominee for Maricopa County Recorder who is over looking the polling station today, said: “There are more reporters than voters in the parking lot here.”

In Nogales, the lines were short at the city’s four polling places.

Nogales resident Cecilia Montaño, 82, said voting is a privilege. To people who don’t vote because they feel they’re vote doesn’t matter, she said “If you want changes in America, your vote counts.”

More than 1.6 million early ballots were received as of November 7, according to Garrett Archer, the assistant director of elections at the Secretary of State’s office. That number represents about 46 percent of registered voters in the state.

Arizona saw a nearly 15 percent increase in registered voters since the last presidential election in 2012, according to the Secretary of State’s website. Nearly 3.6 million Arizonans hold active registrations, a number 20 percent greater than when Arizona Sen. John McCain faced then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008.

On average, 76 percent of registered voters turned out at the past two Presidential elections, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

Before Election Day, Democrats attempted to block a new Arizona law that makes it a felony for anyone other than a family member or caregiver to collect a mail-in ballot on another’s behalf. Democrats said it would hamper their traditional outreach methods to minority voters. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court both upheld the amendment. In his dissent for the 9th Circuit Court, Chief Judge Sidney Thomas said that the law added “disenfranchisement” to the list of challenges faced by the minority voter. But Secretary of State Michele Reagan wrote in an emailed statement that the amendment would “significantly enhance the integrity of the outcome of our elections.”

At several rallies this year, Republican nominee Donald Trump called for his supporters to watch the polls for any signs of voter fraud. His website included a form for potential “election observers” to volunteer their services.

Democrats worried this rhetoric would encourage voter intimidation at the polls. On October 30, the Arizona Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against Trump and the Arizona Republican party for allegedly “conspiring to threaten, intimidate, and thereby prevent minority voters in urban neighborhoods from voting in the 2016 election.” Representatives for the Arizona Republican Party called such claims “ludicrous” and suggested Democrats had timed the suit to distract attention from the FBI’s investigation into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

To combat potential voter intimidation, organizations such as the Arizona Advocacy Network trained poll watchers of their own to be on the lookout for scare tactics. And on November 2, Secretary Reagan issued some official “guidance” to prevent voter intimidation or discrimination on Election Day. The two-and-a-half page document included a reminder that any authorized poll observers “are there to do just that: observe.” Reagan also listed forms of “intimidating conduct” which are prohibited, such as confronting or questioning voters, aggressively displaying weapons or posting signs about penalties for voter fraud.

Elizabeth Bartholomew, spokesperson for the Maricopa County Recorder’s office, said she expected both the Democratic and Republican parties would be enlisting “large numbers” of poll observers on Election Day. For proper authorization, each volunteer would need to carry a signed letter from the county party chairman allowing that individual to be a political observer.

Bartholomew said there’s no limit to the number of poll watchers each party can send out in Maricopa County, but no more than one per party may be in each polling place at a time. The volunteers would have other restrictions as well.

“They can’t be looking over voters’ shoulders,” Bartholomew said, adding that poll watchers can speak to the inspector at the polling place, but not to anyone else.

Bartholomew said the Department of Justice would also likely send observers to polling places, as they usually do during Presidential Elections. Neither the Democratic nor the Republican party in Arizona had reported to the Maricopa County Recorder the number of poll watchers they planned to dispatch on Election Day.
After the Presidential Preference Election in March, many voters and state officials leveled criticism at Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell for long lines that kept some waiting to vote until just after midnight. In an effort to save money, Purcell’s office had downsized the number of polling places from 200 locations in 2012 to 60 this spring.

Voting rights advocates said the situation was a sign of voter suppression and called for renewed federal oversight of state elections. This year marks Arizona’s first Presidential Election without federal oversight in 50 years, after the Supreme Court overturned Section 5 of the historic Voting Rights Act in 2013. Introduced in 1965, Section 5 required select states, including Arizona, to obtain clearance from the federal government before implementing any changes to the voting process.

In response to the Presidential Preference election debacle, the number of polling places in Maricopa County jumped to over 700 at the September Primary Election. But what started as a breezy day at the polls turned into a trying evening, as the Secretary of State’s new online results page experienced multiple crashes and delays.