PHOENIX (AP) — The hours-long lines that marred the Arizona presidential primary can be traced in part back to the fact that tens of thousands of people showed up at polling places despite not being allowed to vote because they were registered independent.
Arizona has a closed presidential primary, which means only people on the rolls as Republicans, Democrats or Green Party members are allowed to vote. Independents are not allowed to cast a ballot.
But they went to the polls anyway, by the tens of thousands, apparently unaware they couldn’t vote or under the mistaken belief they were registered with a party. They were allowed to vote a provisional ballot, a time-consuming effort that helped create lines exceeding five hours at some Maricopa County polling sites.
More than 80 percent of those votes were rejected in Maricopa County, most because they weren’t registered with a party. Of the nearly 25,000 provisional ballots cast, just 4,631 were counted. More than 18,000 ballots were rejected because they were independents.
The process of casting a provisional ballot takes on average about five minutes, rather than about a minute to process a voter who is on the active polls.
Adding to the problem was the decision by Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell to cut the number of polling places to 60 from 200 in 2012’s presidential primary and more than 400 in 2008, the last time the presidency was without an incumbent.
The issue of independents believing they could vote extended to other counties, including Pima, home to Tucson and the second most populous in the state. Pima County recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said Thursday that her office began getting calls as soon as early ballots were mailed in the month before the March 22 election.
“And we had to go look up all their records and say: ‘Yes you’ve been getting them for previous primaries, you got a Democrat in this election or a Republican ballot in that one, but this election is different,’ ” Rodriguez said.
She put much of the blame on the Legislature.
“This election is always very confusing,” she said. “We wouldn’t even be having this discussion if the Legislature would allow independents and parties not designated to vote in this election, because that’s the biggest block.”
More than a third of the voters in Arizona don’t belong to political parties. That makes independents the largest voting bloc in Arizona.
The GOP-dominated Arizona Legislature has long resisted Democratic efforts to open up the contest to independents, focusing efforts this session on abolishing the primary and making the political parties pay for the process. Gov. Doug Ducey said in a statement after last week’s long lines that he now supports allowing independents to vote.
Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump won the contests last week, and the Secretary of State is scheduled to certify the results next Monday.
An attorney for Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign in considering whether to take legal action to challenge the results, largely because of issues with provisional ballots. Sanders could pick up convention delegates if the vote count changes.
Attorney Chris Sautter pointed to voter complaints that they had actually registered with a party but were either incorrectly listed on voter rolls or changed through some glitch in the state’s online registration system. Still, he acknowledged Wednesday that the majority were not registered with either party.
Other counties had far fewer rejected provisional ballots than those in metro Phoenix.
Pima County had a much lower level of rejected provisional ballots and proportionately fewer independents demand a ballot, for reasons that remain unclear. Of about 4,200 provisional ballots issued to people not on the rolls as party members, less than half were rejected.
Voters who stood in line but found they weren’t on the voter rolls remain incensed. Hundreds came to the Capitol on Monday, and nearly a dozen testified Wednesday at the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting to certify their election results.
“I would be a hypocrite standing up here today if I didn’t say that your vote counts but mine doesn’t,” said Ed Higgins, a Tempe resident who had a registration card showing he was a Democrat but found voter rolls showed he was a Republican and had to use a provisional ballot. “Because my provisional ballot, we still don’t know if it counted.”
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