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Lawsuit Filed to Protect Voting Rights in Maricopa, Arizona Following Recent Presidential Preference Primary Election Fiasco

For Immediate Release June 2, 2016

CONTACT: 

Rebecca Sturtevant
Communications Officer
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
202-257-7918
rsturtevant@lawyerscommittee.org

Lawrence Martinez
Director of Communications
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP
310-231-5443
lmartinez@manatt.com

Athia Hardt
Hardt & Associates
602-861-6800/602-370-7966 (cell)
ahardt@hardtandassociates.com

MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz. – Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, and Osborn Maledon filed a lawsuit challenging the decision to reduce the number of polling places for the March presidential preference election (PPE) in Maricopa County from 403 in 2008, to 211 in 2012, to just 60 this year. The suit, brought in Arizona Superior Court names Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors as defendants.

The county’s decision to reduce the number of polling places created significant wait times at polling places and effectively disenfranchised countless Arizonans who were unable to wait in line to cast a ballot. Maricopa County operated one polling place for approximately every 21,000 eligible voters, compared to an average of one polling place for approximately every 1,500 eligible voters in the rest of the state. Though the polls were scheduled to close at 7 p.m. local time, 20 of the 60 locations were open until after 10 p.m. and five polling places in Maricopa were open past midnight. Maricopa County is the largest county in Arizona, containing more than 60 percent of Arizona’s total population, and approximately 60 percent of Arizona’s minority population.

“No voter should face the significant and unendurable wait times experienced by Arizona voters during the recent presidential preference primary election,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We need to ensure that all eligible voters are allowed to participate in our democracy and do not face unnecessary barriers to the ballot box. This case stands as stark evidence of the continuing need for the protections long provided by the Voting Rights Act. Before the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling, Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the Voting Rights Act, Maricopa County would have had to obtain preclearance from the federal government prior to its decision to significantly reduce the number of polling places in effect. The burdens faced by voters in Maricopa County demonstrate why the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act was an important safeguard in our democracy.”

Plaintiffs in the suit include Maricopa voters who were either unable to cast their ballots, or had to wait in line for many hours to do so. Plaintiffs are seeking a judgment from the court declaring that the reduction in polling places violated the constitutional and statutory rights of Arizonans. In addition, plaintiffs are seeking, among other things, an injunction providing for court supervision over all Maricopa County elections leading up to and through the 2020 election, and a requirement that election officials create a comprehensive plan to reduce wait times for elections.

“Maricopa County’s constitutional and statutory violations have functionally prevented countless eligible Maricopa citizens from voting, and, without judicial intervention, will continue in future elections,” said John W. McGuinness, a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, which is representing the plaintiffs pro bono. “Immediate action by the Court as described in the complaint is necessary to ensure that the named defendants fulfill their obligation to provide for the free exercise of the right to vote.”

“Voters should be confident that when they arrive at their polling station they will be able to exercise their right to cast a ballot,” said Shane Ham, an attorney at Osborn Maledon. “When Maricopa County forces some voters to wait hours to vote, we effectively lose our most fundamental right as citizens.”

To read the full complaint, click here.

About the 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 Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, is one of the nation’s leading law and consulting firms, with offices strategically located in California (Los Angeles, Orange County, Palo Alto, San Francisco and Sacramento), New York (New York City and Albany) and Washington, D.C. The firm represents a sophisticated client base—including Fortune 500, middle-market and emerging companies—across a range of practice areas and industry sectors. For more information, visit www.manatt.com.

About Osborn Maledon

Osborn Maledon, P.A. is a Phoenix law firm of 48 attorneys that provides litigation, business and general counsel solutions for its clients.  For more information, go to www.omlaw.com.

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