A Republican state senator who said she spent more than five hours waiting to vote in the presidential preference election -- casting her ballot at 12:20 a.m. Wednesday -- plans to introduce legislation to assure Arizona voters won't endure similar waits in the future.
Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, said she will in the next few days propose an amendment to a yet-undetermined election bill that would require Maricopa and Pima counties to operate a minimum number of polling locations. She said she is working with county officials to determine what an appropriate minimum would be, but said the 60 sites Maricopa County provided were clearly not enough.
Tuesday's 60 polling places were down from more than 200 provided for the 2012 presidential primary, and 400 for the 2008 primary. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in February approved the number, on the advice of Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell. She has said the decision was made based on cost concerns and the belief that more people would vote by mail.
Purcell on Wednesday took responsibility for the long lines and promised to increase the number of polling locations for the May 17 special election, which will include the education funding proposal Proposition 123.
But Yee said legislation is needed to assure it doesn't happen again.
"We've seen across the states that this is a different election, unlike anything we've seen before," she said. "To see that voter turnout has been so high in states before us, we should have been ready."
Yee said she saw voters leave because they just didn't have time to wait in the long lines. Many more endured the waits.
"I was so encouraged to see so many people who were excited about exercising their right to vote, no matter where they stood on the candidates or the issues," she said. "These were people that truly cared about our great country and about where this country is going."
Yee declined to say which Phoenix polling place she had used. She said she'd been collecting campaign signatures at several sites in her district, and just before 7 p.m. got in line at a north Phoenix site.
"I waited five and a half hours in the line and was able to cast my ballot at 12:20 a.m. this morning," she said. "We want to make voting easy and we want to make it accessible, and yesterday's situation did the exact opposite."
She said she believes her proposal will have bipartisan support, and said voters in her district already have been calling to ask for action before the May 17 election. In order for a bill to go into effect by then, it would require an emergency clause and the support of two-thirds of the Legislature.
"We cannot repeat what occurred yesterday," Yee said.
House Elections Committee Chairwoman Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, announced Wednesday she will hold a special committee meeting Monday to gather information about what happened. The public hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. in House Hearing Room 4, 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix.
"In a year when most states experienced record or near-record turnout, Arizona should have been better prepared and anticipated the amount of turnout we experienced," Ugenti-Rita said in a statement.
She said she has invited the Secretary of State's Office, the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office and Arizona Association of Counties to participate. She encouraged the public, particularly voters who experienced long lines, to attend and testify.
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, criticized the Republican lawmakers demanding answers following Tuesday's election. He said if the Republican-led Legislature had considered several bills he proposed months ago, the problems would have never occurred.
“Governor Ducey properly stated this morning that waiting for hours to vote is unacceptable and independents should be allowed to vote. That's easy to say in the face of voter outrage, but he and his fellow Republican legislators ignored the opportunity to prevent this from happening in the first place with my bill, SB 1027, to allow independent voters to participate in yesterday's election," Quezada said in a statement.