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Arizona Election Results Certified As DOJ Begins Inquiry Into Maricopa County Voting Trouble

Jude Joffe-Block/KJZZ
file | staff
Michele Reagan

Secretary of State Michele Reagan certified the results of Arizona's March 22 presidential preference election Monday as word spread that the U.S. Department of Justice had begun an inquiry into the voting trouble that plagued Maricopa County.

The decision by Maricopa County election officials to reduce the number of polling places from more than 200 in 2012 to just 60 is being blamed for long lines that caused some voters to wait more than five hours to cast their ballots. Some polling places in the county did not close until after midnight on Election Day.

On Monday the Maricopa County Recorder's Office released a letter sent Friday by the head of the Justice Department’s Voting Rights section requesting information. The letter asked about the locations of polling places in Maricopa County, the number of registered voters, what led to the decision to reduce the number of polling places this election, and whether county election officials had considered the impacct on minority voters.

County officials have until April 22 to respond.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton had requested a federal investigation. In his letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Stanton said he believed the reduction in polling locations had disproportionately impacted minority voters. Arizona's history of discriminating against Latino and Native American voters made it one of the states that had to have voting changes cleared by the Justice Department. That ended in 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a section of the Voting Rights Act.

The federal agency, however, can sue over election procedures that violate remaining portions of the Voting Rights Act that protect language and racial minority voters, or other federal statutes.

In an interview with KJZZ on Monday, Maricopa County Elections spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew said her office was cooperating with the Justice Department’s inquiry.

“[We’ll] give them any information that they’d like, we’re certainly not hiding anything,” Bartholomew said. “We want to be as transparent as possible and prove to the Department of Justice, and hopefully the voters of Arizona, that we in no way tried to suppress anyone from voting. That was absolutely not the intention. At the end of the day, it was just a huge mistake. And that’s it.”

Bartholomew said the long lines impacted all voters, not just minority voters.

“I would have to disagree that it was based on race or language minority groups," Bartholomew said. "I mean, there were long lines all over Maricopa County. There were lines up in Scottsdale, in Gilbert, in Chandler, South Phoenix, Glendale. There were everywhere. And so it wasn’t specific to a minority group, or a political party.”

After Reagan signed the state-wide official canvass, she told reporters she would welcome any inquiries from the Justice Department directed at her office.

She said she had no choice but to certify the results on Monday.

“The Secretary of State has no legal authority to delay the canvass or reject a county canvass,” Reagan said. “The Secretary of State is purely administrative at this point. Meaning that we just simply added up the totals received from all 15 counties and certified their results.”

Long lines in Maricopa County were not the only documented issue. Some voters claim they were registered with a party but later were told their registrations had been changed to unaffiliated.

The Bernie Sanders campaign has threatened legal action over that point.

Reagan said the deadline for a lawsuit is this Friday. Chris Sautter, a lawyer for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign said Monday he was still considering whether to take legal action.

He is concerned that some voters were erroneously stripped of their party affiliation and were given provisional ballots that were ultimately tossed out. Sautter said that may have impacted Sanders’ delegate count in Arizona.

Some 20,000 provisional ballots were tossed out in Maricopa County because election officials determined the voters were not registered to a party.

The Recorder’s office has offered to look up any voter who believes they should be affiliated with a party and were given a provisional ballot in error.

According to the results certified on Monday, eligible voter turnout this election was 52 percent, up just 1 percent from 2008.

On the Democratic side, Secretary Hillary Clinton won Arizona with 262,459 votes compared to Sanders’ 192,962 votes, according to the official canvass.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump won the state with 286,743 votes, Sen. Ted Cruz came in second with 172,294 votes, Sen. Marco Rubio — who had dropped out of the race before March 22 — earned 72,304 votes and Gov. John Kasich got 65,965 votes.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated with information about the Voting Rights Act.

Jude Joffe-Block was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2010 to 2017.