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Some residents of Arizona's most populous and diverse county were forced to wait in line for over five hours to vote on Tuesday. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Arizona's Primary Voting Fiasco Foretells Further Disenfranchisement in General Election

Three years after Voting Rights Act was gutted, U.S. is witnessing 'a renaissance of voter disenfranchisement'

Nika Knight Beauchamp

Following widespread disenfranchisement during Tuesday's Democratic primary in Arizona, civil rights activists are warning that such debacles could be a harbinger of things to come during the general election in November.

"As we've seen in the Arizona and North Carolina primaries, the Shelby decision has ushered in a renaissance of voter disenfranchisement and Congress must step in to stop it before the general election," stated Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of national and international rights-defending organizations.

Because of the Supreme Court's gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in its Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder decision in 2013, voters in North Carolina and Arizona, which both have a long history of voter suppression, are witnessing firsthand what elections in those states are like without the Act's protections.

"Leaders said if federal scrutiny had been required before making changes," as the Voting Rights Act once required, CNN reported, "Tuesday's situation would have never happened."

"I've waited my entire adult life, and I finally find somebody I want to vote for, and they deny me," Jennifer Robbins, a Bernie Sanders supporter in Arizona, told the Huffington Post. "I left there crying. It's always been my dream to vote, but I hadn't found a politician I liked enough to vote for."

Despite possessing a voter registration card that listed her as a registered Democrat, and after waiting for hours in line to vote, Robbins was told at the polling station that the computer system had her listed as an Independent. Robbins insisted the poll worker scan her registration card once again, and the second time the system had her registered to a party—the Republican Party. She was told she could file a provisional ballot for the Democratic primary, but that it "probably wouldn't count," according to the Huffington Post.

Indeed, Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton told Salon that "Arizona has a history of rejecting large amounts of provisional ballots and mail-in ballots."

Stanton has written a letter (pdf) to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting that the Department of Justice investigate the allegations of voter suppression in Arizona's Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located.

"This is unacceptable anywhere in the United States, and I am angry that County elections officials allowed it to happen in my city," the Phoenix mayor said to Salon.

Over 140,000 people have signed a White House petition asking for a federal investigation of Arizona's voting practices. The Maricopa County recorder, Helen Purcell, has taken responsibility for Tuesday's disastrous voting conditions but refuses to resign, and the state legislature plans to hold a special hearing on Monday about the debacle.

And in North Carolina's primary earlier this month, "many low-income, minority, student, and elderly voters lost the right to have their voice heard in our democracy," the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights lamented. A lawsuit on behalf of North Carolina voters is currently challenging that state's new voter ID laws as unconstitutional and intentionally discriminatory.

"The presidential election will be the first since the Supreme Court dismantled a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act in 2013," as the New York Times observed, "freeing nine states, including Arizona and parts of seven others, to change their election laws without advance federal approval."

The newspaper drew a dire picture of the harsh voting restrictions enacted by states since 2013:

Wisconsin, which holds its primary elections April 5, is one of nine states with strict photo ID requirements. Thirty-three states have some form of voter ID. Kansas has enacted proof-of-citizenship requirements for all voter registration, a move that has disproportionately affected young voters and those attempting to register for the first time. North Carolina allows a registered voter to challenge the identity and eligibility of any voter casting a ballot in the same county.

On March 9, Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed a law that made it a felony to collect ballots for others in Arizona and bring them to the polls.

Arizona also has "a long history of discrimination against minorities, preventing American Indians from voting for much of its history because they were considered 'wards of the nation,' imposing English literacy tests on prospective voters and printing English-only election materials even as the state's Spanish-speaking population grew," the Times points out.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has continued to speak out against the fiasco in Arizona, characterizing it as a "disgrace" in a news conference afterward.

"The disenfranchisement taking place in these states since freed from Section 5 oversight is a canary in the coal mine, a sign of things to come, as we approach the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act," the Leadership Conference argued, pointing out that two laws that would reinstate the former protections of the Voting Rights Act are currently languishing in Congress.

The coalition of civil rights groups pleaded, "for the sake of the integrity of the upcoming general election, we urge Congress to act now."

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