Thousands of voters waited in line for hours after polls closed — and winners were projected — in Arizona, after a Republican county official cut the number of polling places by 70 percent to save money.
Election officials in Maricopa County blamed higher than expected turnout, with competitive races in both the Democratic and Republican parties, and voter confusion for the massive delays, reported KNXV-TV.
Maricopa County used just 60 polling places in Tuesday’s primary election, down from more than 200 in 2012’s presidential primaries and 400 in 2008, saying demand for in-person voting has dropped as more voters mail in their ballots.
“It saves a lot of money, and there are fewer people who vote,” said Elizabeth Bartholomew, communications manager for the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.
Voters who did not register with a political party by a February deadline were not able to participate, but many non-affiliated voters still wanted to file provisional ballots — which take longer to process.
Frustrated voters lashed out at Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, who made the decision to shut down two-thirds of the polling stations and scatter them further out into Phoenix suburbs.
— BrahmResnik (@brahmresnik) March 22, 2016
“It’s almost like they want to disenfranchise us — I don’t think it’s right,” said voter Scott Richardson. “I’m going to vote against her when she runs again. Helen Purcell shouldn’t be elected again.”
A 62-year-old Phoenix man who said he’s voted at the same church for 25 years and never waited more than 15 minutes said he waited three and a half hours this year.
“This is unconscionable,” said voter Joe Oddo. “Somebody must be accountable for this.”
Another voter tweeted out just before 2 a.m. Wednesday that she and others had waited more than five hours to cast their ballots — although her 18-year-old son was unable to vote because he had to get up early for school.
— Mary FarringtonLorch (@MaryKFLorch) March 23, 2016
Purcell said 890,000 early ballots were sent out to the county’s 1.25 million eligible voters, leaving about 300,000 who were expected to show up at polling places.
But lines up to 600 or 700 people long stretched for blocks outside many polling stations after polls closed at 7 p.m., and thousands of voters waited for three hours or more.
Some voters in downtown Phoenix precincts waited until after midnight to cast their ballots.
The Associated Press called the primary races for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump by 11:20 p.m., and the Arizona Secretary of State website reported 100 percent returns in Maricopa County shortly before 12:40 a.m. Wednesday — although some voters remained outside, waiting to cast their ballots.
AZ Secretary of State website reporting 100% polls in for Maricopa Co. while people remain standing in line.
— Dan Patrick (@CBS5AZ_3TVDan) March 23, 2016
A spokesman for the county recorder’s office apologized and said anyone waiting in line after 7 p.m. was still permitted to vote — as long as they waited their turn — and praised the high turnout that caught officials off guard.
Purcell said she wasn’t sure what she would do differently for the next presidential election.
“We will have polling places like this, maybe we will have more,” Purcell said. “Maybe we will look at the locations. Maybe it’s better located some place else. Maybe in certain locations we will have more. Maybe we can have a larger place where we can put more electronic poll books and more people.”
Watch this video report posted online by KNXV-TV: