Voter Suppression in Maricopa County

If you don’t already know what’s going on in Arizona, and in Maricopa County in particular, you’re bound to hear more about the voter suppression that took place last week, on March 22, during the state’s presidential primaries. The local papers promptly reported that the county provided just one polling place per every 21,000 voters. Indeed, we suffered greatly in Maricopa due to the decrease in polling sites—down from 200 in 2012, to only 60 sites last week. Passing a downtown polling place, I spotted a line that seemed at least 100 people long. They wrapped the corner well after 11 p.m., and some had their children with them.

On Monday, March 28, I went down to the capitol to support those who were out to protest their disenfranchisement and the random, unexplained changes in their voter registration. It was fiercely bipartisan outside the buildings that housed the hearings. Some were willing to talk with me and share why they were protesting. What they had to say follows below. If you would like to see more online, search the Internet for the Arizona Election Fraud & Voter Suppression Hearings, March 28, 2016.

At the Arizona State Capitol

A young, bearded protestor named Scott signaled the “catastrophically disorganized” election as his main impetus for being amongst the protestors outside on the capitol lawn.

He spoke at length:

Our county recorder, Helen Purcell, limited the number of poling places in Maricopa County by 70 percent of what they were in 2012. So, down from 200 to 60. What happened is that, especially in the denser areas of the city, especially where there are more minorities and disenfranchised voters who have to work, who might not have transportation, and so forth, there were very limited polling places available. Whereas, if you go to Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, Sun City, no problem: 45-minute wait max.

“In downtown Phoenix,” he said, “lines wrapped around blocks, five-hour-plus lines. So, that’s a big part of the issue.”

But there was more to the problem than the lines:

Another huge, huge issue is that a lot of people who were registered—all the people I know who this happened to were Democrats—showed up at the poling places, some of them with their kids in tow, waiting in line for hours, with babies, even. And when they got to the front, they were told they weren’t registered as Democrat. They were either registered as Independent, or No Party Designated (NPD). Or, in a couple of cases, they were actually told they were registered Republicans and weren’t able to vote.

This last bit of information betrayed a hint of incredulity in Scott’s voice:

Some of these people I know were involved in getting the vote out and letting people know that, in order to vote in the closed primary in Arizona, they had to be registered as a Democrat by February 22nd—and they sure as hell were. So, yeah, they filled out provisional ballots, but we just heard from the hearing inside that there were a total of 24,000 provisional ballots written out—18,000 of which were supposedly Independent or No Party Designated voters, which will not be counted. And I have personally spoken to nine people who have that same story. They were told they were either registered as Independent or Republican or No Party Designation and disallowed to vote. One of them went out to eat dinner right after and the same thing happened to their waiter. I mean, so, it’s pervasive.

We proceeded to talk briefly about some folks on social media who reached out from other parts of the state, specifically in Tucson, because they were not allowed to vote, but instead, they were told that they had to commute back to Maricopa if they wanted their vote to count.

Scott then interjected:

Speaking of Maricopa versus other counties, what people need to understand is that Maricopa County, with its population and demographics and so forth, is important to the State of Arizona as the electorate of California is to the nation.

Next, a young female protestor named Ladawn explained to me why she and the others were at the capitol:

We are out here because, on Tuesday, I think the estimates are tens of thousands of voters weren’t able to vote—for several reasons. One I think they’re focusing on too much is that the lines were really long. But the real problem was that people’s voter affiliations were changed, just like, by magic.

Like other protestors, Ladawn had a personal connection to someone whose vote had been suppressed:

My best friend, who couldn’t be here today, is a Democrat, has always been a democrat—she showed up after four-and-a-half hours in line, and they gave her a provisional ballot because they said she was registered Independent, which she has never been.

But this is not an issue that Ladawn said affected only her friend and a few others. “There have been thousands of people, she said, “saying the same thing. And most of them are Democrats. You know, there have been a few Republicans that said that, but it seems like it has far and away affected Democrats more.”

Ladawn also expressed her misgivings about the presidential election this coming fall:

Honestly, this election, the primary aside, What are the repercussions for November? It looks to me like they’re trying to steal this election. And whoever ‘they’ are, that’s what we need to figure out, and we need to stop it. If we just accept that they can’t go back and change it, that this is just ‘how it is’—it’s bigger than that, and it’s bigger than just Arizona.

“It doesn’t matter who you want to be president,” she warned, “what matters is, if we let this go on, eventually we’re all disenfranchised.”

Finally, Tani, another young woman and the last protester with whom I spoke, was at the capitol on her own behalf. Her vote was not counted. Tani said that she had purposely changed her voter registration from Independent to Democrat, as well as she updated her address just to be safe.

“I sent in my early ballot,” she said, “I went ahead, and the day after this voting debacle went down, I checked my voting registration, and it was Independent. Therefore, my vote does not count, and that is the most disgusting thing to me, that somebody has something to say over me, that somebody who has money has more to say than I do, even though I represent the people!”

Tani then signaled the crowd with her forefinger and exclaimed: “I represent the people! You all represent the people! And our vote matters!”

I asked Tani what it was that she wanted with respect to the hearing being held that morning. She said:

I want everybody in office who does not support our rights to be out, everybody. If you don’t support the people, you are doing America a disservice; you are wronging everybody who lives in this nation. And that is wrong and disgusting and despicable. It’s not okay. This is not okay. My vote should matter. My vote should count for something.

Mind Your Civic Epistemologies

It goes without saying that if we cannot depend on our elected officials to ensure the counting of votes, then we are right back to the 2000 US presidential election turmoil—a time when the democratic transition of power hung in the balance for over a month. Indeed, this election cycle, voters should consider that one of the fundamental drivers for politics in our society is knowledge because it is absolutely a cornerstone of our political intuitions and processes. But what kind of knowledge, exactly?

‘Who wins’ an election, for example, is knowledge constructed via the civic epistemologies that are fundamental to our democracy. Such knowledge gets made within our voting and political communities. So, in the coming weeks and months, voters should recall that when we construct such knowledge as ‘who wins’, we at once determine manifold aspects of our own political lives, including accountability, identity, legitimacy and authority. Yet, in Arizona, elected officials took civic epistemologies for granted just last Tuesday. Now, things like accountability, identity, legitimacy and authority are all in jeopardy, and it is the voters who suffer.