Maricopa County election administrator backtracks after blaming voters for long lines

To say that Arizona’s primary this Tuesday was a crowded mess would be an understatement.

In Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest county, voters had to wait in lines as long as five to six hours in order to cast their ballots. Many voters were unable to wait in lines that long, for a variety of reasons, and wound up leaving without voting. The last ballot was cast at 12:12 AM, more than five hours after the polls closed and after both the Democratic and Republican races had been called.

The reasons why voting in Maricopa County took so long aren’t that complicated. In 2012, the county had 200 polling locations; this year, it cut that number down to 60. Even if one expected turnout this year to match that of 2012, this wouldn’t make sense, but given the fact that both the Democratic and Republican primary were being contested, it didn’t take an expert to figure out that more people were going to show up to vote in the Arizona primaries this year. Combine that with Arizona’s voter ID law, which was not in effect for the 2012 election, and you’ve got a recipe for delays: more people trying to vote at fewer polling locations, with each voter taking a longer time to cast their ballot.

But don’t tell that to Helen Purcell, the Maricopa County Recorder responsible Tuesday’s election administration:

Helen Purcell, screenshot via Fox 10 Phoenix / YouTube

Helen Purcell, screenshot via Fox 10 Phoenix / YouTube

When asked who’s to blame for Tuesday’s long lines Purcell’s first thoughts were, “Well, the voters for getting in line. Maybe us for not having enough polling places or as many as we usually have.” She then qualified that she didn’t want to “blame” the voters for the egregious offense of trying to vote in large numbers, but nevertheless went on to suggest that voters who were frustrated by long lines should have voted early.

Her answer…didn’t go over so well. Suffice it to say that a local election administrator has to screw up pretty royally to get their name trending on Twitter.

Purcell walked back her comments yesterday, telling the Associated Press that “I made bad decisions based on the information I had, obviously, or we wouldn’t have had long lines.” It’s still unclear as to what information she had that could have possibly led her to believe in good faith that a two thirds reduction in polling locations made sense, but at least she isn’t sticking with her defense that the real problem with suppressive election administration is the voters themselves.

That doesn’t change the fact that it was still her first thought.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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