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Long lines bog down Arizona presidential primary

Voters wait in line at dawn to cast their ballot in Arizona's presidential primary election, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Voters wait in line at dawn to cast their ballot in Arizona’s presidential primary election, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Arizona presidential primary drew long lines Tuesday as people waited hours at polling spots to cast ballots amid heightened interest in the polarizing contest for the White House.

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. Police were called to direct traffic at some locations and at least one polling place ran out of Democratic ballots.

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

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. 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.

“All we can do is thank them for their patience,” Bartholomew said of voters enduring the delays.

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.

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.

Lorraine and Donald Maloney, of the northern Arizona community of Cameron, voted for Cruz at a polling site on the Navajo Nation. The longtime Republicans said their beliefs most closely align with Cruz, although they haven’t heard him specifically mention American Indian affairs.

“You don’t hear anyone mention the Natives. All these different candidates say they’re going to do this or that for certain people, the Hispanics, the whites, that’s the sad part,” Lorraine Maloney, 60, said.

Marie Howard, 57, is backing Clinton. The Tonalea, Arizona, resident keeps postcards, an autographed photo and newspaper clippings that remind her of when Hillary Clinton visited the Navajo Nation and the nearby Grand Canyon long before she became a presidential contender.

“She’s the only one who’s been out here trying to make a difference,” Howard said.

Donald Trump has made Arizona a focus of his campaign since last summer, when a massive Phoenix rally showed his strength among, much to the dismay of party leaders. He has focused on border security ai??i?? a perennial issue among conservatives in Arizona. He and Cruz campaigned here in the leadup to the primary, while Ohio Gov. John Kasich largely focused on the Tuesday primary in Utah in his effort to derail Trump’s candidacy.

Sanders made several Arizona stops in the past week, while Clinton campaigned in Phoenix on Monday.

Whoever gets the majority of Republican votes will collect all 58 GOP delegates in Arizona ai??i?? 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.

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