Groups Seek Emergency Relief and Judicial Oversight for Elections in Maricopa County, Arizona

voting booth

Last week, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP and Osborn Maledon, P.A. filed a motion for preliminary injunction, arguing that the Arizona secretary of state and Maricopa County officials should be required to produce Election Administration Plans (EAP), and obtain judicial approval of those plans, ahead of the Aug. 30 primary election and the Nov. 8, 2016 general election.

The motion seeks to prevent a repeat of the March 2016 presidential preference primary in which state and county officials oversaw a drastic reduction in the number of polling places in Maricopa County from 403 in 2008, to 211 in 2012, to just 60 this year. The reduction resulted in unbearable wait times in excess of five hours in many locations and effectively disenfranchised countless voters.

“No voter in our modern day democracy should have to face the long lines and five hour wait times endured by many during the recent primary election in Maricopa County, Arizona,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The relief we seek from the court can help ensure that all voters are able to participate in Maricopa’s electoral process free from unnecessary burdens and barriers.”

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Maricopa County would have had to obtain federal approval of the reduction before its implementation. Section 5 required jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to preclear all voting changes with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Today’s motion asks the court to require the secretary of state and Maricopa County recorder to submit an EAP 30 days before the August primary and 45 days before the November general election. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors would be required to approve the plans before they are submitted to the court. Specifically, the EAPs would require officials to develop and implement measures to manage and reduce wait times, explain how the number of polling places was chosen, and create an Election Day communications plan.

“Everyone would benefit from increased transparency in the management of Maricopa’s elections,” said John W. McGuinness, partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, which is representing the plaintiffs pro bono. “After what happened in March, voters should have the assurance that a comprehensive plan was in place well in advance of Election Day.”

“Our request simply asks the court to recognize that long lines at polling places are the same thing as denying citizens their right to vote, and to make sure election officials don’t make the same mistakes again,” said Shane Ham, an attorney at Osborn Maledon.

In June, the Lawyers’ Committee, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP and Osborn Maledon, P.A. filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Maricopa County voters who were either unable to cast their ballots, or had to wait in line for many hours to do so in the March presidential preference election. The suit was filed in the Arizona Superior Court and names Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors as defendants.

To read the full motion, click here.

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