Two petitions calling for a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of the March 22 Arizona presidential primary election have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures in the past few days.
Though overshadowed by other stories in the mass media like ISIS, the Brussels bombings and the Trump-Cruz spectacle over wives and alleged affairs, the demand for a DOJ investigation is picking up steam following last Tuesday’s debacle of ballot shortages and hours-long poll lines. Many people reportedly left the polls after long waits without voting.
During a primary that was closed to independents, reports also surfaced of voters claiming long-time Democratic Party registrations being told by election officials that they could not vote because their names were showing up in the voter rolls as registered Republicans or independents.
Many political leaders, activists and ordinary citizens in Arizona and nationwide are deeply concerned over the election’s disenfranchisement of Latino and other voters of color. The problems reported on March 22 were concentrated in the urban Phoenix area of Maricopa County, which is 40 percent Latino in population.
Whether intentional or not, “voter suppression happened,” charged Arizona Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego.
The primary day melt-down occurred after election officials in Maricopa County cut the number of polling stations from the 200 local sites that were set up in 2012 to 60 consolidated “voting centers” where any registered voter could cast a ballot this year. According to the Associated Press, 400 polling stations existed in the county in 2008.
Money appears to be an important factor in the precinct consolidation. In 2015 the GOP-dominated Arizona state legislature cut $4.5 million in funding for the primary election, leading Maricopa County elections officials to implement a cost-saving consolidation strategy.
The Arizona Black Voters Alliance and other citizen groups are calling for the sacking of the official in charge of the election, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell. A posting on the group’s Facebook also contends the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and the Arizona Secretary of State were responsible for the primary problems.
“No one is off the hook. Voting should be fair and accountable for our communities,” the Alliance writes.
“Helen Purcell is not trained for this position. We need someone new,” added Alejandra Gomez, co-executive director of the Arizona-based community action group LUCHA (Living United for Change in Arizona).
“Once again, our state has demonstrated that it is not in favor of the community. We aren’t going to stop and we are going to be prepared so this doesn’t happen in the general elections in November.”
According to Gomez, problems with voters’ access to ballots also cropped up in Arizona during the 2012 election. Legal experts like Paul Bender, former deputy solicitor general for the Bill Clinton Administration, blamed election day scenes Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders called “a disgrace” on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County vs. Holder decision which struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act requiring Arizona and 14 other states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain advance approval from the DOJ for changes in how they conduct elections.
Facing a torrent of criticism, Maricopa County elections chief Purcell was both defiant and apologetic in the days after the primary.
“I am not going to resign..the electorate is free to do what they wish,” Purcell was quoted.
Purcell rejected the charge that the placement of voting centers was racially motivated, but admitted miscalculating the heavy turn-out at the polls since many people had already mailed in ballots or participated in early voting.
“We certainly made wrong decisions by only having 60 stations,” Purcell said. In comments to La Voz de Arizona the day prior to the primary, however, Purcell said she anticipated a turn out in the neighborhood of 60-65 percent.
In another pre-primary statement that could go down as one of the most ironic understatements in Arizona political history, Secretary of State Michele Reagan said, “tomorrow is going to be a very exciting day.”
Both Purcell and Reagan are Republicans. Daniel Scarpinato, spokesman for Republican Governor Doug Ducey, disagreed with contentions of voter suppression, but said Ducey wants voting problems fixed.
“Its’ totally unacceptable for people to have to wait in lines of that length to vote,” Scarpinato said.
In the past Frontera NorteSur has reported on election irregularities similar to Arizona’s in both Mexico and the United States, including the 2012 Mexican presidential contest when special precincts ran out of ballots and turned away voters in Puerto Vallarta.
During the 2012 New Mexico general election long lines and or/ballot shortages frustrated voters in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and Chaparral, a heavily Latino community situated astride two counties in southern New Mexico. The Chaparral fiasco, which also included complaints about the lack of Spanish-translation services, drew some coverage from the Mexican press in nearby Ciudad Juarez.
According to unofficial election results posted on the website of the Arizona Secretary of State, Democrat Hillary Clinton handily beat rival Bernie Sanders with 257,233 votes against the Vermonter’s 185,500.
More Republican votes were recorded than Democratic, with Donald Trump’s 280,494 votes trouncing Ted Cruz’s 167,413 and John Kasich’s 64,714 in the GOP primary.
Interestingly, several Republican hopefuls who had dropped out of the race received votes: Marco Rubio (72,007), Ben Carson (14,807), Jeb Bush (4,330), Mike Huckabee (1,275), Carly Fiorina (1,253), and Chris Christie and several others who together racked up more than 2,000 votes. The same was true in the Democratic field, where Martin O’Malley picked up 3,806 alongside lesser totals for three other minor contenders.
If all the votes are combined for the GOP candidates other than Trump, more Republicans voted against the real estate tycoon than for him. The Green Party also had a presidential primary on March 22, with Jill Stein getting 666 votes and Kent Mesplay winning 151.
Although the primary votes have been tallied, the Arizona election controversy is far from over. An online petition posted on the website Usuncut.com that calls on the Obama administration to investigate the March 22 election garnered 100,000 signatures in only two days, climbing to almost 208,000 signatures as of Easter Sunday, March 27. In part, the petition reads:
“Numerous voters who switched from Independent to Democrat could not vote and were turned away and given provisional ballots which in turn were never counted. We the people of the United States of America find this act alarming and would like a complete investigation to uncover the violations that occurred during the Arizona voting on 3/22/2016 and prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law.”
Similarly, a petition posted by the left-liberal organization Moveon.org which backs Phoenix Democratic Mayor Greg Stanton’s call for a DOJ investigation counted more than 119,000 signatures as the weekend drew to a close. Longtime border farmworker leader Carlos Marentes added his voice to the chorus clamoring for an Arizona investigation.
In an interview with FNS, Marentes said the Arizona primary scandal came about because of an effort to “contain” people who’ve been upset for many years about “anti-immigrant actions and Sheriff Arpaio” and wanted to express their outrage at the ballot box.
“Let’s see if the Obama administration will get the courage to (investigate), because up until now the Obama administration hasn’t been able to stop the abuses in Arizona,” Marentes said.
Marentes spoke to FNS at Albuquerque’s annual Cesar Chavez Day celebration held March 26 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, where he and his wife, Alicia Marentes, were honored by the local Remember Cesar Chavez Committee with the annual Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta awards. The couple is among the co-founders of the Border Agricultural Workers Center, a facility which provides shelter and services to seasonal farmworkers on the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio.
In a fiery keynote speech that was broadcast across north-central New Mexico by the Raices Collective of community radio station KUNM-FM, Marentes spoke about his personal experience at the epic 1977 farmworker march on Washington, D.C., the below-poverty wages of New Mexico chile pickers, the legacy of Cesar Chavez, the centrality of immigrant workers to the U.S. economy, the “ugly and bad” twists of the 2016 presidential campaign, and the need for a “political revolution.”
Marentes later told FNS that the political process was very important for Cesar Chavez, a native son of Arizona who supported candidates that backed legislation favorable to farmworkers.
“That’s one way, to me, to honor the memory of Cesar Chavez- to clean the elections in Arizona and demand an investigation,” Marentes said.
Additional sources: The Republic/Azcentral.com, March 26, 2016. Article by Mary Jo Pitzl. Cnn.com, March 25, 2016. Article by Eugene Scott. Associated Press, March 24, 2016. Commondreams.org, March 23 and 25, 2016. Articles by Lauren McCauley and Nika Knight. Lavoz/Azcentral.com, March 21 and 23, 2016. Articles by Laura Gomez, Lauren McCauley and Nika Knight.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico