Democratic Party Sues Arizona, County, Declaring that Botched Election Violated Federal Law

Arizona and Maricopa County officials violated federal law and the Constitution with bad legislation and the bungled March 22 election, a group of voters and the Democratic Party allege in a lawsuit filed today.

The anticipated lawsuit, which the Democratic National Committee said this week would be forthcoming, blasts the ballot-harvesting law signed by Governor Doug Ducey this year and the poorly planned Presidential Preference Election in March that left some voters standing in line for hours.

The lawsuit demands that:

 A court review and approve plans for polling places for the November election.

 The court stop Arizona from its practice of rejecting provisional ballots cast of a voter's typical precinct.

• The state be prohibited from enforcing a law that prevents people, with some exceptions, from collecting other voters' early ballots.

 Maricopa County elections officials be required to submit an emergency plan to address and remedy long wait-times if they occur during the general election.

The lawsuit is the latest blow-back related to the screw-up that caused heavy delays at voting centers on March 22 in Maricopa County.

The worst part of the election disasters came after people got off work that day and found epic lines at the polls. Poll workers allowed anyone who got in line before the polls closed at 7 p.m. to vote; some of those voters didn't cast a ballot until after midnight.

Public outrage that followed the fiasco included a rowdy Elections Committee hearing at the House of Representatives, where one protester was arrested. Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan and Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell accepted blame for the problems and apologized.

As previously reported, and as the lawsuit states, the problem was caused by a cost-cutting measure that saw the number of polling locations reduced from more than 400 in the 2008 preference election — the last one that had a Democratic as well as Republican nominee — to just 60 in March.

Voters also reported registration problems, such as Republicans or Democrats waiting in line only to find out that they were mistakenly registered as Independents, and thus could not vote in the preference election. No problems were reported in Arizona's other 14 counties.

The state has a long history of disenfranchising voters — especially minorities, according to the new lawsuit. Arizona had a "literacy" test, not repealed until 1972, designed to thwart Spanish speakers. And the state practiced severe segregation for decades. The suit doesn't neglect to mention state Senate Bill 1070 and the long-running investigation into Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's discriminatory practices.

On March 22, "the insufficient number of voting locations had a particular impact on minority populations."

A "wide swath of predominantly minority and lower-income areas" were affected, including west Phoenix, east Glendale, and "poorer areas" of Mesa, Avondale, and Glendale, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit also mentions south Phoenix as affected adversely , but in fact two polling centers in south Phoenix had relatively short lines on March 22.

During that election, voters could go to any of the 60 polling centers, which sounds convenient but actually helped add to the confusion. For the general election, voters will be required to vote only in the precinct in which they're registered.

"Such a drastic change in such a short period of time will assuredly confused voters and cause many voters to arrive at the wrong polling location," the suit says. If the state continues to prohibit out-of-precinct voting, "thousands more" Maricopa County voters probably will be disenfranchised.

The suit expends several pages on the anti-ballot-harvesting law signed by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.

"Given the severe burdens placed on Arizona voters and the sheer lack of evidence that fraud has ever occurred, the state cannot show any legitimate interest in the passage and promulgation of this law sufficient to overcome the rights of the Arizona citizens who are burdened by it."

The lawsuit recounts the March 22 voting horror stories of seven voters.

Leslie Feldman, for example, recalls her five hours in line at the Church of Beatitudes voting center in Glendale that were "made even more unpleasant and upsetting because the one bathroom at the voter center was overwhelmed and leaked raw sewage onto the sidewalk and the adjacent grass."

The long list of plaintiffs in the federal complaint includes the seven voters, the Democratic National Committee, Arizona Democratic Party, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, former Navajo Nation President Petersen Zah and "Kirkpatrick for U.S. Senate." (Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick is trying to unseat U.S. Senator John McCain this November.)

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice began an investigation of the March 22 debacle, sending Maricopa County officials a list of questions to answer about it.

County Supervisor Steve Gallardo, a Democrat, is scheduled to hold a news conference this afternoon about the complaint.

Read the complaint below:

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.