A lawsuit filed Thursday is rebutting claims by Secretary of State Michele Reagan that she bore no blame or responsibility for the fiasco during the presidential preference election.
The claim filed in Maricopa County Superior Court details the problems that resulted in people standing in line for up to five hours during the March 22 election. And attorneys for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and other law firms said the blame can be laid at the feet of County Recorder Helen Purcell and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors who approved only 60 polling places.
But the lawsuit also seeks to undermine Reagan’s claim that she had no control over the county’s decision.
It says state law requires the secretary of state to provide through her procedures manual “the maximum allowable wait time for any election.” And the lawsuit says that manual sets the maximum allowable wait time at one hour.
Another section of election law requires the secretary of state to “provide for a method to reduce voter wait time at the polls in the primary and general elections.” And it specifically requires her to consider the number of ballots voted in prior elections, the number of people who voted early, and the number of election board members and clerks as well as the number of rosters at each polling place “that will reduce voter wait time at the polls.”
The section of law being quoted specifically refers to elections held on certain specified dates. But the lawyers contend those requirements extend to the presidential preference election.
An aide to Reagan said she had no immediate comment, saying her elections staff will review the lawsuit after they are formally served.
But she has repeatedly insisted that she had no legal role to play in the decision by Purcell, ratified by the county supervisors, to have only 60 polling locations. More to the point, Reagan said she had no ability to override that conclusion.
Reagan does not dispute that she knew the county had set up only 60 centralized polling locations for the presidential primary, a race that had both Republican and Democratic contests. That compares with about 200 in 2012, when there was only a Republican primary, and more than 400 in 2008 when both major parties had contested presidential primaries.
“We put our faith in counties,” Reagan said after the election that left hundreds standing in line and countless others giving up. And Reagan said she was “excited” that Maricopa as well as other counties had set up “polling centers” where any registered voter could cast a ballot, rather than having to show up at his or her own designated location.
About the closest Reagan came to accepting any blame was in her more generic role of the state’s chief elections officer.
“I wish I had questioned that 60 were not enough,” she said. “For that I take responsibility.”
The lawsuit does not let Purcell off the hook.
Aside from the decision to have just 60 polling places, it says Arizona law requires election marshals to check wait times throughout the day. And if the wait is 30 minutes or more, the marshal must inform the officer in charge of elections and “shall request additional voting machines, voting booths and board workers, as appropriate.”
The attorneys noted the publicity throughout the day on March 22 of the long lines, saying none of this should have been a surprise to Purcell. More to the point, they said state law makes her the “officer in charge of elections” who should have responded.
The new lawsuit comes more than a month after national and local Democrat interests asked a federal judge to force changes in how the state runs its elections.
That lawsuit claims that not just Maricopa County but the whole state has engaged in “consistent activity that has created a culture of voter disenfranchisement” since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 ruled Arizona no longer had to check with the U.S. Department of Justice before making changes in voting procedures and laws. Those changes, challengers say, “abridged and denied the rights of voters across the state and the county.”
Some of their claims are based on what happened March 22.
But it also cites the decision by the Republican-controlled legislature earlier this year to make it a crime for people to deliver the early ballots of those who are not family members or others with whom they live. That lawsuit claims the change pushed through “to suppress (that is, fence out) the vote of Democrats because of the way they are expected to vote.”