Arizona election prompts voter frustration, protests in downtown
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Frustration with Arizona's presidential preference election spilled onto Tucson's streets Wednesday, March 23, as a small group of protesters holding signs stood in front of the county building on Stone Avenue, arguing that every vote counts.
Several Tucson police officers showed up to keep the protest peaceful, however one person was thrown to the ground and arrested, apparently for not following orders to stay in the crosswalk.
His name and the charges against him have not been released, but there were several witnesses, including a local attorney.
The fact that 1.2 million voters registered as independents did not get a chance to vote on Tuesday, March 22, has protesters calling for a change.
Arizona dumped the primary in favor of the presidential preference election in 1996, but this year was the first time the system's weaknesses were exposed.
First of all, independents are not allowed to participate because the parties involved have chosen to make their election "pure."
Only registered Democrats can vote for Democrats, only registered Republicans for Republicans, Greens and so forth.
That has disenfranchised a third of the registered voters in the state and the fastest growing part of the electorate.
Statewide, there are more independents or no-party-decided voters than either the Democrats or Republicans.
Thousands showed up at the polls Tuesday surprised they were not able to vote, however many were allowed to cast a provisional ballot.
"They were angry," Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said.
She talked to many of the hundreds or thousands who called on the phone.
"I said, 'If you insist on voting, we would issue you a provisional ballot,'" she said.
All of those provisional ballots must be checked by hand, their signatures verified and be processed before determining whether they are valid or not.
"Of course, it's expensive," Rodriguez said.
The increased interest in the election led to what will likely be a record turnout when all counting is done.
Pima County opened 124 polling places, about half the number of a normal election, because state law requires it.
The state has allotted only $10 million to cover the expenses of all the elections in all the counties.
It's likely not enough and pointed out a second shortcoming which was played out on national television.
Lines were so long in Phoenix and Maricopa County, some voters waited in line three to four hours to vote.
Even Gov. Doug Ducey said it was unacceptable.
Maricopa County choose to open only 60 polling places for 4 million people. Tucson has about 1 million.
"We decided not to cheap out," Rodriguez said. "Which is why we didn't have the lines they had in Phoenix and Maricopa County."
But it also means Pima County may have to use general fund money to pay for part of the election.
County officials said they can't estimate how much right now, but said they are keeping a running tab which they will present to the state.
"If I'm going to go over my budget to provide a good service to the taxpayers, I"m going to go over budget," Rodriguez said. "And not have long lines."
This could be Arizona's final presidential preference election.
There is a bill in the legislature to change the system, but right now it's bogged down in procedures and stalled in the Senate.
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