Democrats to sue Arizona officials over primary voting problems

PHOENIX (Reuters) - The Democratic National Committee will file a federal lawsuit over the actions of Arizona election officials during the presidential primary that caused long waits at the polls and critics said disenfranchised voters, especially minorities.

People wait to vote in the U.S. presidential primary election at a polling site in Glendale, Arizona March 22, 2016. REUTERS/Nancy Wiechec

Officials said the lawsuit, to be filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona on Friday, will target the decision to sharply reduce polling locations in Maricopa County, which caused up to five-hour waits for voters casting ballots in the March 22 primary.

The lawsuit will also question the state’s “arbitrary rejection of provisional ballots at alarming rates,” with a large number coming from minority voters, according to a DNC statement.

“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,” the DNC chair, U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said in a statement.

Joining the suit will be the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Arizona Democratic Party, former Navajo Nation leader Peterson Zah, the Ann Kirkpatrick for Senate campaign and affected voters, the statement said.

The Democratic nominating contest for the Nov. 8 presidential election was won by Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. Their campaigns both said they would join the lawsuit.

Named as defendants in the legal action are Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell.

A spokesman for the secretary of state declined to comment on the specifics of the case, saying: “The secretary welcomes any inquiry.”

A spokeswoman for Purcell declined to comment but told CNN last week there were no intentional efforts to keep people from voting.

The election became mired in controversy from the outset as county voters spent hours to vote at one of 60 polling sites, a reduction from 200 sites in 2012. Officials said the move was an effort to cut costs.

County officials immediately took the blame for the decision, saying they misjudged voter turnout based on recent history and increasing mail-in votes.

The election, called unacceptable by the state’s governor and a fiasco by the Phoenix mayor, has prompted questions by the U.S. Department of Justice over its handling by county officials.

The county, Arizona’s most populous, has said it will comply with an April 22 request for information from the head of the voting section of the department’s civil rights division. A county spokeswoman had no comment on the lawsuit.

Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Megan Cassella in Washington; Editing by Sara Catania and Peter Cooney