Second petition demanding action on elections tops 100,000 signatures

Maricopa County went from precinct-based polling places to voting centers, then cut the number of those to 60 for the entire county, leading to hours-long wait for many voters in the presidential preference election. (Photo by Cronkite News)

Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, left, and Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan answer questions a day before the presidential preference election that ran into massive problems in the county. (Photo by Gabrielle Abbott/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – The furor over last week’s elections in Arizona continued to churn this weekend, with a petition on the topic passing the 100,000-signature threshold Saturday that obligates a White House response.

This petition, calling for a new vote in the state’s presidential preference election, follows a petition last week that demanded an investigation of “voter fraud and voter suppression,” after a reduction in the number of Maricopa County polling places led to hours-long waits for some voters.

“If the voters want to try to have the department (of Justice) do an investigation, that’s definitely their choice, but we personally think that everything would be cleared,” said Elizabeth Bartholomew, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.

The petitions on the White House’s We the People website do not mandate any action beyond a review and response by the administration to those that garner at least 100,000 signatures within 30 days.

The Arizona petitions were filed the day of the election. The “voter suppression” petition had 100,000 signatures within two days, and was over 210,000 as of Friday.

Other advocates – ranging from voting rights groups to state and federal politicians – have also called for action.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton wrote to the Justice Department the day after the election, urging an investigation in an effort to prevent future problems at the polls. His office said Friday it had not received a response, and the Justice Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington-based voters’ rights group, and several Arizona-based civic organizations sent letters to both Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell and Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan to “express our grave concerns” about the March 22 vote.

Reagan spokesman Matt Roberts said that neither the White House nor the Secretary of State’s Office has the authority to order a new vote, as the latest petition demands. That would have to come through litigation, but there’s been no indication of that so far, he said.

Roberts said Reagan is scheduled on Monday to officially approve the results of last week’s election.

Purcell, meanwhile, has apologized for the problems in the presidential preference election and pledged to double polling places before a May 17 vote on propositions dealing with school funding and public pensions.

“We’re doing a lot of different things to ensure that what happened last week won’t ever happen again,” Bartholomew said. She added that the office plans to have 724 polling places for the November general election, or one for every precinct in the county.

For last week’s vote, the county abandoned precinct-based polling places in favor of mega-vote centers, then cut those from 210 polling places in 2012 to 60 this year.

While Purcell has said that the move was made to cut costs, critics like the Lawyers’ Committee have charged that the changes disproportionately impacted minority voters.

“We request that your office take immediate remedial action to ensure that election officials are prepared for increased voter turnout and to ensure that voters do not face restrictive and burdensome wait times at the polls in any future election,” the committee’s letter read.

The letter acknowledged Purcell’s public apology but said the Recorder’s Office had to take steps to ensure that resources, ranging from equipment to poll workers, and the location of polling stations were in “compliance with the law.”

The Lawyers’ Committee has called the state’s voting problems the first fallout from a 2013 Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act that said Arizona and other states no longer have to get an OK in advance from the Justice Department for any changes to their voting practices.

But Bartholomew challenged that assertion.

“We’re still doing everything that we used to do under the Department of Justice preclearance, however, we just don’t send a report anymore,” she said, noting the use of bilingual poll workers and ballots in three languages, large print and Braille.