Unbelievably, the most populous county in Arizona cut the number of polling places from 200 to 60 for yesterday's primary election, leaving voters standing in lines for 3 to 4 hours, in the heat. When the polls closed, there were still lines so long it was estimated that people would be waiting another 3 hours before they could vote.
KJZZ reports two problems with the process. One was the sharply lowered number of polling places. The other was that the Arizona is a closed primary, which means voters needed to register with one of the two parties. Apparently some independent voters requested ballots too, causing poll workers to process their ballots as provisional.
Independent voters aside, it's ridiculous that a county with 6 million voters in it would have 60 polling places, early voting or not.
Maricopa County shifted to 60 polling places — down from the 200-plus in use during the 2012 presidential primary — as a cost-saving move and to reflect the reduced demand for in-person voting as the number of voters who mail in their ballots continues to rise. In 2008, there were 400 polling places.
In contrast to four years ago, voters also could go to any of the 60 county polling sites. Four years ago, voters had to go to a designated polling place for their vote to count.
“It saves a lot of money,” said Elizabeth Bartholomew, communications manager for the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, which conducted the election. “And there are fewer people who vote.”
Only people registered with the Democratic, Green or Republican parties were eligible to vote in Tuesday's primary. In Maricopa County, that pencils out to 1.25 million eligible voters, compared with the 2 million who are registered overall.
The county identified the 60 sites used as polling places by looking at areas with high mail-in ballot returns, and tried to get several sites in every major city. Phoenix had 12. Mesa had four. Cities on the edges of the county, such as Wickenburg and Gila Bend, had one site each.
But county officials appeared to miscalculate the level of enthusiasm for primary races that had not yet been sewn up. Other counties didn't have problems with long lines, but also had more polling places. In Pima County, there were 130 sites for one-quarter as many voters as went to the polls in Maricopa County.
There's no excuse for that. It's shameful.