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Arizona activists discuss voter suppression, issues with primary election

People wait in line to vote in the Arizona Presidential Primary Election at Mountain View Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Ariz., Tuesday, March 22, 2016. (David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic via AP)

PHOENIX — Just days before voters are expected to cast their ballots in a special May election, local activist groups gathered to discuss the possible issues with the Arizona presidential primary election in March.

Local activist groups gathered at a voting rights town hall meeting on Monday to dissect the problems with the election, which many said were the result of deliberate voter suppression tactics.

Raquel Teran, state director of Mi Familia Vota, said she’s been helping Latinos dealing with voting problems for years, but government officials are only now recognizing the problem.

“Why are we talking about this?” she said. “Because it affected all of Maricopa County.”

The Arizona presidential preference election resulted in hours-long wait times in some parts of the county, which is the biggest in the state. County recorder Helen Purcell said the excessive wait times were due to a shortage of polling locations, but some activists are pointing to a bigger issue.

“What we saw on March 22 was very clearly voter suppression,” Alejandra Gomez, executive director of Empowerment Arizona, said. “The county and the state don’t want people like me voting. They don’t want women voting, they don’t want Latinos voting, and we saw that 100 percent.”

Many town hall participants blamed the problems on a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that removed federal oversight of Arizona elections. Gallardo said many of the polling places with the longest lines were in areas with large populations of minorities and lower income people.

“The fact is that there are policies in place that make it more difficult for people of color, low income voters, elderly voters and handicapped voters from participating in our election system,” Gallardo said.

Samantha Pstross with the Arizona Advocacy Network said activists will be forming a non-partisan citizen commission to monitor Arizona’s elections. A formal announcement is expected in June.

“Leaders in the community got together and said, ‘What are we going to do?’ she said. “We’re trying to be as friendly as possible. We’re going to sit down with Helen Purcell this week and see if we can have some oversight.”

Pstross said the group wants to double-check Maricopa County’s ballots before they are mailed to voters.

It is unclear whether Purcell would be open to such a move.

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