My Thoughts on AZ Long Lines: Incompetence, Not Vote Suppression, and Blame #SCOTUS First

The other day, while voting was taking place in AZ, I had a post entitled Would Long Lines at AZ Polling Places Have Happened if #SCOTUS Hadn’t Killed Voting Rights Act Provision?  My point was that Maricopa County’s decision to cut the number of polling places by 2/3 would not have been possible before the Supreme Court decided the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case because to do so Arizona, which had been covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, would have had to demonstrate (and likely would not have been able to demonstrate) that doing so would not have made protected minority voters in Maricopa County (lots of Latino and Native American voters) worse off.  So this review would have made a big difference.

Which brings me to my point today. Section 5 worked not only to stop intentional minority vote suppression but also bureaucratic incompetence. The election administrator of Maricopa County, Helen Purcell, made a decision to cut polling places apparently to save money (there is always pressure from state and local governments to skimp on resources for election administration), and partially out a mistaken vast underestimation of election day turnout.

Now people want off with Purcell’s head, claiming intentional voter suppression. People are angry, and justifiably so. Bernie Sanders said that waiting 5 hours to vote is a disgrace. (He’s right.)  Here’s Clinton’s campaign lawyer Marc Elias saying that both Sanders and Clinton voters were disadvantaged (all voters were); here’s the mayor of Phoenix (rightfully) calling for a DOJ investigation.  Purcell did not help herself by giving an interview where the first person she blamed for long lines was “the voters:”

“Just to start, obviously you’ve heard of all the frustration. Who is to blame for this, these long lines?” Purcell was asked.

“Well, the voters for getting in line, maybe us for not having enough voting places,” she replied.

Purcell has since apologized.

But there’s no good evidence that Purcell was motivated to suppress the vote. I have heard from a number of people that Purcell (a Republican) is a straight shooter and works with a Democratic head of elections. This seems like a perfect example of Hanlon’s razor: don’t explain with malfeasance that which can be explained by incompetence.

Purcell screwed up. Maybe she doesn’t deserve to be in office after this screw up (thank goodness this was not for the general election and the race was not close). But I don’t see evidence she someone like a Kris Kobach trying to intentionally make it harder for likely Democrats to vote.

But thank John Roberts and Co. that this did not get a closer look from federal officials before the election took place.


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