Long lines bog down AZ presidential primary

Posted at 11:21 AM, Mar 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-22 21:04:24-04

The Arizona presidential primary drew long lines Tuesday as people waited at least an hour, and some up to two hours, in many polling spots to cast ballots amid heightened interest in the polarizing contest for the White House.

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Dozens of people were lined up before voting started at 6 a.m. at a central Phoenix polling place, and hundreds were in line there by mid-afternoon. Other locations had similar waits.

Some wore wide-brimmed hats or carried umbrellas for shade. Others sat in lawn chairs they brought from home.

RELATED: 5 things you need to know before going to the polls

Many people showed up to vote but left after seeing the long line, hoping to come back later with a shorter wait.

"I don't think it should take this much effort just to vote," said Kathy Wilson, 75, a Hillary Clinton supporter who had been waiting a half-hour and was still toward the back of the line. "With the weather so hot and so many senior people like me, this is getting dangerous to stand in these lines for so long in the sun."

Long lines were expected all day at polling places, Maricopa County Elections Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew said.

Lines snaked up to almost every one of the 60 polling sites across the county, with the exception of remote locations such as Gila Bend or Wickenburg.

"All we can do is thank them for their patience," Bartholomew said of voters enduring the delays. "They're going to have to wait in line."

The county cut the number of polling sites for this year's presidential primary from 200 in 2012 mainly as a money-saving measure. In addition, the majority of voters get mail-in ballots, and independents who can't vote make up more than a third of the electorate.

Only registered Republicans, Democrats and Green Party members can vote in the primary.

Officials said 56 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Democrats in Maricopa County who had requested early ballots had returned them by Monday morning. In Pima County, returns for both parties as of Friday topped 60 percent, and more than 130,000 Pima County voters had cast early ballots.

Elections in Pima County have gone more smoothly than in Maricopa County, although many voters and polling site workers have been calling Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez with questions about why independents can't cast a ballot.

Rodriguez says she's been getting constant calls from independent voters who are confused about why they can't vote.

"We have a lot of upset voters because they're not affiliated with the major parties. And they're not happy. That's the state law-- we can't change that," Rodriguez said.

In Tucson, retired firefighter Ron Huerta cast a ballot for Democrat Bernie Sanders at a library. But he said it was a close call for him because he also likes Hillary Clinton.

Huerta said he likes Sanders' policies to regulate big banks and that he hasn't heard Clinton focus on that and other issues that matter to him.

"It was close. I think that, like I said, he had better ideas than her. I mean, I haven't heard her say anything like dealing with the banks, helping seniors, social security, having the banks pay their fair share, helping the veterans more. I haven't heard her talk about that at all," Huerta said.

George Sabare, also retired, said he voted for Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz., calling him the best choice because of his experience and reliability.

Voters will determine whether establishment Republicans can slow businessman Donald Trump's march to the party nomination, and if Clinton can stave off populist support for Sanders.

Trump has made Arizona a focus of his campaign since last summer, when a massive Phoenix rally showed his strength among grassroots party voters, much to the dismay of traditional party leaders. He has focused on border security -- a perennial issue among conservatives in Arizona.

Trump will be competing for votes in a slimmed-down field of candidates that no longer includes Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and instead puts him head-to-head with Cruz for the votes of border hawks.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich largely focused on the Tuesday primary in Utah in his effort to derail Trump's candidacy.

Whoever gets the majority of Republican votes will collect all 58 GOP delegates in Arizona -- at least through the first vote at July's party convention.

The only major poll in the state shows Trump well in the lead, but it was taken before Rubio's exit on March 15. The survey conducted March 7-11 by longtime Arizona pollster Bruce Merrill also showed nearly a third of Republican voters remained undecided.

On the Democratic side in Merrill's poll, Clinton had a healthy lead over Sanders, but the poll showed a large number of undecided voters.