People all over Arizona are livid about the fact that they had to wait as much as five hours to vote on Tuesday, because Republicans in the state drastically cut back on the number of polling places. In Maricopa County, which contains Phoenix and is home to about 4.2 million people, the number of polling places was slashed from 200 a few years ago down to 60, or one polling place for every 70,000 residents. Many voters, faced with hours-long waits, simply walked away in frustration. And why did this happen? In part, you can thank John Roberts and the conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Ari Berman explains:
Previously, Maricopa County would have needed to receive federal approval for reducing the number of polling sites, because Arizona was one of 16 states where jurisdictions with a long history of discrimination had to submit their voting changes under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This type of change would very likely have been blocked since minorities make up 40 percent of Maricopa County’s population and reducing the number of polling places would have left minority voters worse off. Section 5 blocked 22 voting changes from taking effect in Arizona since the state was covered under the VRA in 1975 for discriminating against Hispanic and Native American voters.
But after the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in 2013, Arizona could make election changes without federal oversight. The long lines in Maricopa County last night were the latest example of the disastrous consequences of that decision.
In that 2013 decision, the Supreme Court conservatives said that key parts of the Voting Rights Act are no longer needed because discrimination in voting is a thing of the past. As soon as the decision came down, Republican state legislatures moved swiftly to pass new voting hurdles that previously would have required Justice Department approval before. Here’s a summary of the Republican voting program:
Impose voter ID requirements
Shorten early voting periods
Eliminate early voting on Sundays, when many African-American churches organize “souls to the polls” voting drives after services
Eliminate same-day registration
Restrict the ability of citizen groups to conduct voter registration drives
Reduce the number of polling places