Maricopa County Recorder: Blame falls on me

Posted at 10:49 AM, Mar 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-24 02:00:22-04
Election officials are taking 'full responsibility' for the long lines and confusion Arizona voters experienced during Tuesday's presidential election.
"I would just like to reiterate again, I take full responsibility for what happened yesterday," Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell told the county's Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, a day after voters waited in hours-long lines--some up to 5 1/2 hours--to vote in Tuesday's presidential preference election.

"I made an error in judgment in planning this election," Purcell said.  "I should have had more polling places, and I am very sorry about that."

All day Tuesday, many polling booths in Maricopa County showed lines of voters snaked around buildings waiting hours-to cast their ballots.

There were 60 polling locations in Maricopa County. A dramatic decrease from the 200 during the 2012 presidential primary. Most elections have about 700.

Many continued to wait hours after the polls had closed (7 p.m.) and after Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had been declared the winners of their parties.

"Anytime you disenfranchise one voter, you disenfranchise too many," said Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo. 

Purcell briefed the Board of Supervisors Wednesday about the problems that resulted from her decision to consolidate polling places for the presidential primary vote. The board had approved her plan weeks earlier to reduce the number of locations from 200 to 60, despite Gallardo's objection.

Tuesday's election snafu was not on the agenda for Wednesday's meeting and supervisors grappled with how to handle the "national" news story that it had become and the frustration voters expressed.

"It was poor judgement on the county elections department," said Gallardo. "They should have known this was a potential problem if they didn't know they have some serious problems."

"The public is owed an answer," said Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Chucri.

Protesters outside the county elections office Wednesday morning questioned whether they had witnessed intentional voter suppression. 

"That certainly was not my intent - never would be," Purcell said.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton is calling for the Department of Justice to investigate.  Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan labeled the upheaval "completely unacceptable," and her office will launch a full-scale statewide review of county election policies and procedures.

Governor Doug Ducey called for the presidential primary to be open to all registered voters, hoping to end confusion on eligibility that delayed some poll lines Tuesday.

RELATED: Arizona leaders demand change after election

Purcell was first elected in 1988. Despite critics calling for her resignation, she said she will not step down willingly. She is running for reelection this year.

Community activist Jarrett Maupin met with Purcell Wednesday. At first, he had planned to file a lawsuit, but after the meeting, he said Purcell agreed to reforms including adding more urban churches as polling places.

"The County Recorder's office and the Elections Department have agreed to become more accessible and have committed to improving direct communication with minority leaders and communities," Maupin said. "Dr. King would be smiling at the progress made today."

Purcell told ABC15 that the regular primary and 2016 general election will have more than 700 regular precinct voting locations, and voters should not see long waits at the polls.

Take a look at the map below to see the 211 polling locations in 2012's presidential preference election (green) and the 60 polling locations open for yesterday's vote (yellow). For a full-screen view, click here.