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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  • therling

    One of the best things about Oregon’s vote by mail is that you can sit down with the voter’s guide you’d received from the state in one hand and your ballot in the other, and carefully go over the candidates and ballot measures. It seems to me that being able to carefully consider the candidates and issues is what a democratic system of government ought to be. It gives you an opportunity to learn more about what you’re voting on.

  • Stephanie Turner

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  • PattyJM

    Every Oregon county has are drop off boxes at numerous public buildings and other locations. The polls close at 8 PM so a voter can deposit their ballots 30 seconds before 8 if he or she wants.

  • sford713

    Sad, but true. Oust Debbie Wasserman Shultz!

  • MyrddinWilt

    This might be a chance to win Arizona. And I am serious.

    Anyone can vote absentee in Arizona. And all it takes is for the Democrats to really push home the message, vote by post to stop the GOP stealing your vote plus a reaction against Trumpler.

    Sure, AZ is not going to decide the WH race. But every state won means a chance for more House members and in many of them there are chances to pick up Senators and state legislature seats.

    This has to be fixed and the only way to fix it is with a new voting rights act that isn’t limited to race. Any state where people wait more than an hour to vote gets bailed in. Any state that is gerrymandered gets bailed in. Any state that disenfranchises more than 5% of the total population or a minority population gets bailed in. Etc. Etc.

  • emjayay

    Too busy protecting payday lenders.

  • emjayay

    I don’t know about Oregon, but on election day I believe that Colorado also opens up a lot of drop off sites, which seems like a good idea for people wanting to decide some things at the last minute with the most information, just like with traditional voting.

  • Butch1

    These people know exactly what they are doing and it’s disgusting that they still get away with it. Perhaps, the Feds should be able to step in every time this happens and the people in charge of this mess need to spend a night in jail as a result. That may help them try and change the situation.

  • ComradeRutherford

    “show up and demand to vote”

    People that do that are arrested and taken to jail.

  • PattyJM

    Kudos to those who endured the long line.

    There have been stories like this one every election. Its disgusting.

    Maybe everyone should adopt Oregon’s vote by mail system. Here we receive the ballot in the mail several weeks in advance and mail it back when completed.

    The R’s will scream that doing things this way would cause fraud but we haven’t had any significant problems since we started voting this way in 1987.

  • ComradeRutherford

    “I was promised that Democrats would not come out and vote! It’s all the Dem’s fault for thinking they have rights.”

  • dcinsider

    Well, this proves that we should not have surprise elections. We should schedule them in advance, say a couple of years ahead, with exact dates. Then the states can prepare for them. This poor woman obviously had no idea they had gone ahead and scheduled some sort of primary in her county. Someone should have told her ahead of time. I assume she did her best given what a shock it was that people were voting that day.

    If only we could develop a system where we scheduled these elections in advance, like an election calendar with dates. That would solve the problem.

  • Yep, doesn’t change the fact her actual desire and preference was for fewer people to vote.

    Which is basically 100% in line with the Republican party platform these days.

  • Ol’ Hippy

    We had the same problem here in NM in 2012, 5-6 hour lines in Rio Rancho. Even our Governor passed out pizza in the ridiculously long lines. The county clerk “just didn’t know” what drew such big crowds. She’s no longer employed now. When people DO vote there needs to be ample places and enough help to avoid these long lines. If people are willing to go vote these places damn well ought to ensure the lines aren’t so long as to discourage future turnout.

  • 2karmanot

    It’s Arizona for gawd’s sake—-makes Louisiana look like a hot bed of Democracy.

  • Quilla

    Love how Helen Purcell shot from the lip and “apologized” after hitting someone.

    Seems to be a chronic symptom with certain people.

  • douglas01

    Five will get you ten that Purcell is a Republican. Republicans never accept responsibility for anything they do, it’s always ‘someone else’s fault. Time to get the pitchforks out and run her out of town.

  • I admire greatly the people who waited for hours to vote. Not everyone can do that (they’d get fired for missing work, for one thing.) In places where the Teavangelicals are in charge, this kind of voter suppression is now common. The only way to reverse that trend is for those affected to show up and demand to vote. I realize that’s asking a lot.

  • I haven’t heard much from the DNC on this? Why are they silent? (No I do not think this a plot to take down Bernie, I think he would have lost anyway, I’m simply curious as to why they are not angry about voter supression when it could haunt them in the fall).

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