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Civil Rights and Civic Groups Urge State and Local Election Officials to Take Corrective Action Following Election Crisis in Arizona on March 22

For Immediate Release March 30, 2016

Letters Sent to State and Local Election Officials Urge Adoption of Election Administration Plan and Other Actions to Address Long Lines and Disenfranchisement During Primary Election

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to long lines, disenfranchisement and other barriers faced by voters during the presidential preference election last week in Arizona, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) and local partners have issued letters outlining immediate corrective actions that must be taken by Arizona election officials in advance of any future election in the state.  Arizona is a state that was formerly covered by the Section 5 preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, a law that helped to block and deter discriminatory and burdensome voting changes.  This year marks the first presidential election cycle in more than 50 years conducted without the full protections of the landmark Voting Rights Act.

The first letter was sent to Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell. The letter addresses the long lines that voters in Maricopa County faced on March 22, after the county switched to large-scale vote centers and reduced smaller, neighborhood-based polling places from over 200 to 60 since 2012. Although Maricopa County voters are able to vote at any vote center, the letter raises the organizations’ concerns regarding the disproportionate impact that the county’s switch to mega-vote centers may have on minority voters. Hispanic, African American and Native American residents of Maricopa County tend to be lower-income and are more likely to lack access to reliable transportation to polling sites which are not as centrally located.

“Our democracy cannot tolerate the kind of mass disenfranchisement of voters that we witnessed in Arizona during the recent primary election,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Voters were subject to long lines and poorly administered mega-vote centers, and many voters had to abandon their effort to cast a ballot because of work and family obligations. Action must be taken now to restore the public’s confidence in the electoral process and to ensure that all eligible voters are provided real access to the ballot box in future elections.”

Census data shows that white households are more likely to have access to a vehicle, than Hispanic, African American or Native American households in Maricopa County. In addition, Hispanic, African American and Native American residents of Maricopa County are more likely to use public transportation or rely on a carpool to commute to work than are white residents. The decision to reduce the number of polling sites in the context of these racial disparities raises serious concerns.

“The election last week in Arizona was a disaster that should have never happened,” said Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona. “The Latino voters in Maricopa County, along with all other minority voters, have been disproportionality affected by the major reductions in polling sites, which predominantly impacted voters of color. This is a situation that cannot be ignored and needs action now.”

The second letter calls on the secretary of state’s office to require counties to develop and submit Election Administration Plans (EAPs). These plans will help ensure that counties have a comprehensive emergency action plan to respond to technological failures, unexpected long lines, or other unanticipated events during an election.

The experience in Ohio reflects the value of having comprehensive EAPs. After the myriad problems in Ohio in the 2004 election, the Lawyers’ Committee and others filed a lawsuit, League of Women Voters v. Brunner, alleging that Ohio had violated the constitutional rights of voters in the way it administered elections. A central component of the resulting settlement was to require the secretary of state to direct each county to implement an Election Administration Plan prior to every election that addresses the following areas: resource allocation; security; Election Day communication; education materials and ballots; Election Day contingencies; poll worker recruitment; training, and accountability; voter registration; absentee ballots; and the production of a master calendar. In Ohio, election administration has vastly improved since the implementation of EAPs. It is time to do the same in Arizona.

“Arizona is a state that was formerly covered by the Section 5 preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act before it was gutted in 2013,” said Samantha Pstross, executive director of Arizona Advocacy Network. “The barriers and long waits that our voters faced was inexcusable. The Arizona Advocacy Network is devoted to ensuring that all eligible voters in our state will not disenfranchised from exercising their right to cast a ballot for the person of their choosing.”

The groups warned that the substantially reduced number of polling places within the county would disproportionately impact minority voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.  The groups also expressed their concern about this potential violation following reports indicating that there were disproportionately fewer polling places in or proximate to communities of color.

“As the Latino vote continues to increase, we must ensure equal access to the ballot box,” said Ian Danley, executive director of One Arizona. “The March 22 presidential primary preference election showed us that Arizona still has work to do to ensure that we are not suppressing the Latino and minority vote. Some predominantly Latinos districts like LD20, LD29, LD30 had one to zero polling sites, leaving some with no other choice but to wait in lines until midnight or later. Sixty polling places for five million people is completely unacceptable and a disservice to our community.”

For the full letter to the Honorable Arizona Secretary of State Michelle Reagan, click here.

For the full letter to Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, click here.

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About Lawyers’ Committee:

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Formed over 50 years ago, we continue our quest of “Moving America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and community development; employment; voting; education; environmental justice; and criminal justice.  For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

About AZAN: 

Arizona Advocacy Network works for electoral justice, political rights and full civic participation to achieve government of, by and for the People. Our work includes: strengthening Arizona’s Clean Elections system; advocating for full, immediate disclosure of all campaign contributions; promoting anti-corruption and conflict of interest laws including gift bans; guarding voting rights, voter registration and election integrity; defending Arizona’s judicial merit selection system, and protecting Arizona’s ballot initiative and referendum processes. Read more at www.AZadvocacy.org and on Facebook: Arizona Advocacy Network.

About ONE Arizona:

ONE Arizona, a nonpartisan coalition of 15 organizations dedicated to Latino voter registration, immigration, economic justice and education. Learn more about ONE Arizona: http://www.onearizona.org/.

About Promise Arizona:

Promise Arizona (PAZ) is a membership organization dedicated to recruiting, training, and supporting a new generation of leaders from across the state to build a better Arizona, one in which all residents will have the opportunity to achieve their full God-given potential. Learn more about PAZ: http://www.promiseaz.org/.

About The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers' Committee, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The Lawyers' Committee celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013 as it continued its quest of "Moving America Toward Justice." The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment, voting, education and environmental justice.

For more information about the Lawyers' Committee, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

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