Democrats launching challenge to Arizona voting practices

AP News
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Posted: Apr 14, 2016 8:04 PM

PHOENIX (AP) — National and state Democratic groups and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign launched a broad challenge Thursday to Arizona's voting practices in the latest fallout from the state's troubled presidential primary.

Clinton has made voter suppression and ballot laws in Republican-led states a centerpiece of her campaign as she rallies her base in the 2016 White House race.

The move in Arizona came after the state's largest county saw huge lines at polling places during the March 22 primary that caused many voters to wait for hours to cast ballots.

It includes a planned federal lawsuit that aims to force changes in how the state runs its elections. Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign said he plans to join the suit.

The groups, which include the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and state Democratic Party, say Republicans are trying to disenfranchise minority and poor voters who tend to vote Democratic in Arizona and across the country.

"Republicans are using every tool, every legal loophole and every fear tactic they can think of to take aim at voting rights wherever they can," Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Republican Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, the state's top election official, called the effort "a partisan attack from partisan organizations."

"That is silly and we won't respond to those types of partisan allegations when we're focused on identifying what went wrong in this particular election and making sure it doesn't happen again," Roberts said.

Citing budget issues, Maricopa County drastically cut the number of polling places from the previous presidential primary in 2012. The decision hurt the ability to handle independent voters who showed up at the polls during the closed primary. Statewide, a large number of provisional ballots were thrown out.

The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an inquiry into the voting problems and a Tucson man is challenging the election results in court.

The chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, Robert Graham, called the planned lawsuit a political tactic to try to capitalize on problems that cropped up in the primary.

"When you have a candidate as weak as Hillary Clinton in the state of Arizona, it's a political strategy for them to try to soften the underbelly," Graham said. "Toe-to-toe, she has no chance against the Republican nominee in Arizona, so this is the type of gaming that the citizens of Arizona are tired of."

The lawsuit is expected to be filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix. It will not challenge the primary results but instead seek changes in how polling places are chosen and provisional ballots counted.

It also will challenge a new Arizona law that makes it a felony in most cases to collect and drop off someone else's early ballot. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said the law will protect the integrity of the ballot.

Democrats say it will make it nearly impossible for voter-outreach groups to collect and drop off early ballots and is designed to suppress turnout, particularly in impoverished and minority communities.

A separate lawsuit filed by John Brakey of Tucson challenging the election results is set for a hearing in state court Tuesday.

The lawsuit alleged problems with voter registration statewide and that Election Day balloting rendered the certified results illegal.

He wants the court to rescind certification of the results and order remedies that might include a new election.

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This story has been corrected to show the state court election challenge is set for a hearing Tuesday, not Monday.