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Clinton, Sanders, and Democratic Party Will Sue Arizona Over Alleged Voter Suppression

The lawsuit alleges that a lack of polling locations resulted in "the ultimate disenfranchisement of untold numbers of voters who were unable or unwilling to wait in intolerably long lines."
Photo by Jeff Kowalsky/EPA

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and various segments of the Democratic Party will file a lawsuit on Friday over alleged voter suppression in Arizona, the Washington Post reports.

The lawsuit focuses on Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, where some voters waited in congested lines for as long as five hours before being allowed to vote in the primaries there on March 22. Elections officials in the county cut polling locations by 85 percent from the 2008 presidential election in order to save money, resulting in overwhelmed polling locations on election night last month.


The lawsuit alleges that minority voters, who typically vote Democrat, were most affected by the lack of polling locations. "[Arizona's] alarmingly inadequate number of voting centers resulted in severe, inexcusable burdens on voters county-wide, as well as the ultimate disenfranchisement of untold numbers of voters who were unable or unwilling to wait in intolerably long lines," Democrats argue in the lawsuit.

Maricopa County elections chief Helen Purcell issued a mea culpa just after the Arizona elections, but has rebuffed calls for her resignation. Purcell said that she had pushed for fewer polling locations to save money, and had expected that many more voters would submit their ballots by mail than actually did. "We certainly made bad decisions," she said. "It was my fault."

Related: Phoenix Mayor Asks Justice Department to Investigate Alleged Voter Suppression in Arizona

The lawsuit is being brought by the Democratic National Committee, the party's Senate campaign committee, the state party, the campaign for Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, the Democrat who is challenging Sen. John McCain, and several individuals who were affected by long voting lines in Arizona. Democratic officials told the Post that the Clinton campaign will join the lawsuit after it is filed on Friday. Sanders' campaign announced Thursday after that they, too, will join in the lawsuit.

"The handling of the primary election in Arizona was a disgrace," Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "People should not have to wait in line for five hours to vote. How many people were turned away? What happened in Arizona is part of a pattern of voter disenfranchisement by Republicans."


Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook echoed those sentiments in a statement earlier Thursday. "Hillary for America is committed to fighting for all voters to be able to exercise their fundamental right to have their voices heard in this election. We share the concerns of Arizona supporters of both campaigns who encountered barriers and appreciate the DSCC and DNC's willingness to let us join the case as a party," Mook said.

The legal challenge comes just days after election watchdog and lobby group Americans United for Democracy, Integrity, and Transparency in Elections (AUDIT-AZ) filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court demanding a partial recount of ballots from the Arizona primary.

In the lawsuit, John Brakey, the co-founder of AUDIT-AZ, accused election officials of misconduct, including cutting back the number of polling stations by some 85 percent from 2008 to save money. Brakey estimates that voter suppression tactics and poor election procedures cost some 150,000 people in Maricopa County the ability to vote and "altered the results of both the Democratic and Republican primaries," the Phoenix New Times reported.

Clinton won the Democratic primary in Arizona last month, but the Democratic Party's lawsuit that she and Sanders are joining looks forward to the general election.

The lawsuits follow Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton's letter to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling on the Justice Department to investigate alleged voter suppression tactics. Stanton, a Democrat supporting Clinton, wrote the letter the day after the Arizona primaries, arguing that the polling locations in his county were congregated in predominately white areas, although Phoenix is a majority-minority city. Stanton called election night there a "fiasco."


"My request comes on the heels of consistent activity that has created a culture of voter disenfranchisement in the state," Stanton wrote in the letter.

The Justice Department opened an investigation into the matter earlier this month.

Related: Jane Sanders Says Bernie Will Vote for Hillary If She Wins the Nomination

Democrats filing the new lawsuit on Friday are hoping to resolve these issues before November 8. But, as the Post notes, these kinds of cases can take a long time, and the "Purcell doctrine" encourages courts not to post decisions affecting elections too close to Election Day.

The suit could also have an effect on Kirkpatrick's campaign, which is also party to the lawsuit as she seeks to unseat McCain this fall. Kirkpatrick trailed McCain, who has served in the Senate for almost 30 years, by just a single point in recent polling. The seat is a major target for Democrats this year as they try to take control of the Senate.

VICE News correspondent Liz Fields contributed to this report.

Update: This story has been updated with the news that Sanders' campaign, too, will join in the Democratic lawsuit against Arizona.