DOJ seeking info from county after voting mishap

Posted at 2:59 PM, Apr 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-05 02:30:44-04

After voters waited in lines for hours to cast a ballot during Arizona's presidential preference election and many state leaders were demanding answers, the United States Department of Justice is seeking information from the Maricopa County Recorder's Office. 

A letter was sent to Helen Purcell from the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division seeking information from the office as to how the March 22 election was planned, and the office's response thereafter. 

In the letter, the Justice Department said there were allegations of "disproportionate burden" in waiting times to vote on election day in "some areas with substantial racial or language minority populations." 

The Justice Department, with the information sought, will evaluate whether Purcell's office was in compliance with federal voting rights statutes. 

The information being sought includes the following: 

  • List of polling places and locations on the election held on March 22. 
  • Procedures and the criteria used by the office to determine the number of polling places, along with the locations, for the election. Additionally, the reasoning behind the reduction in polling place locations for the 2016 primary. 
  • Description of information provided to voters about election day procedures and how to cast a ballot at polling places. 
  • A list of Maricopa County's registered voters for the 2016 primary.
  • Data on voters who voted at a polling place on election day as well as those who turned in an early ballot. 
  • Data on staff assigned at polling places, including bilingual staff and poll workers. 
  • Information on the total number of provisional ballots that were turned in at polling locations, and whether the provisional ballots were counted or not. 
  • Information on when the last voter voted at each poll location and at what time those specific polls closed. 
  • The procedures used by the office to record political party registration in the county's voter database as well as whether voters in the election thought their party information was incorrectly recorded. 
  • The response from the office in regards to news media reports of long waiting times during the election, as well as if those long waiting times may have burdened minority voters. Additionally, the office is asked for their plans on how to avoid this in future elections. 

The Justice Department is asking Purcell's office to send in all information by April 22. 

Concerned citizens, the Arizona Democratic Party, Secretary of State MicheleReaganGovernor Doug Ducey, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, and Attorney General Mark Brnovich have all asked for answers regarding the long lines voters faced. 

The Justice Department request came as Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan was set to certify results of the presidential primary.

Take a look at the timeline below for a full recap on what has transpired from the polling issues at the presidential preference election in Arizona. For a full-screen view, click here.

As the state's top election official, Reagan doesn't have the ability to reject the official canvass from the 15 counties, despite her own acknowledgment of problems that saw some voters incorrectly left off rolls, spokesman Matt Roberts said. The certification does, however, open the window to any possible court challenge.

"There's nothing that gives us the statutory authority to do anything other than certifying the election," Roberts said. "If there is somebody considering a lawsuit we have to certify the results before that even happens."

Monday's official canvass opens a five-day window for a challenge, something an attorney for Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders is considering. Attorney Chris Sautter said last week that there was evidence that an unknown number of voters had their ballots thrown out because of problems with voter rolls.

"What's at stake are delegates," Sautter said. "Obviously the outcome of the election for the primary is not going to be changed, but delegate counts could be changed."

Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton in the primary, but because Democrats allow delegates to their national convention proportionally, challenging the results could conceivably add to the number won by Sanders. The state has 10 superdelegates and 75 at-large allocated in the primary.

Maricopa County threw out more than 20,000 provisional ballots, and Sautter said he's collected complaints from some voters who believe they should have been on the Democratic voter rolls. Independents weren't allowed to participate.

Republican Donald Trump won his party's election and the 58 delegates are committed to vote for him on the first convention ballot.

Five polling places in metro Phoenix still had voters in line after midnight during Arizona's botched presidential primary two weeks ago, including one location where the final ballot was cast at nearly 1 a.m., according to county records.

The Associated Press obtained a document from the Maricopa County Recorder's Office that shows the time when each of the 60 polling sites closed in the March 22 primary, providing a more complete picture of the abysmal wait voters experienced.

Votes were still being cast past 10 p.m. in 20 of the 60 locations, meaning residents had to wait at least three hours to choose a candidate in the White House race. The polls closed at 7 p.m., but anyone who was in line at that point could vote.

One location in Phoenix saw its last voter just two minutes before 1 a.m. Fourteen of the 20 sites that had people voting past 10 p.m. were in Phoenix or its western suburbs, while six were in the eastern part of the Phoenix metro area.