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Groups to form commission on accountability in Arizona elections

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Several community groups will come together Thursday to try to improve Arizona elections.

They’ll be trying to correct some problems they say were created by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that weakened the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

Samantha Pstross of the Arizona Advocacy Network and Foundation said things were different back then.  “The county recorders would have to ask permission from the Department of Justice before they could change polling places,” she said.   Pstross referred to that as “pre-clearance.”

“Under pre-clearance, they also had to make sure that the community was notified if a polling place was moved,” Pstross said.

But then, the Supreme Court decision ruled in the case of Shelby County v. Holder that part of the “pre-clearance” requirements were unconstitutional and they applied heavy requirements on some states, but not others.  Pstross claims that decision has led to problems in Arizona.

“We’ve seen all kinds of election problems,” Pstross said. “The worst being the March 22 fiasco when there were not nearly enough polling places (in Maricopa County), which never would have occurred had the Voting Rights Act been restored.”

The number of polling places in Maricopa County was reduced from 200 to about 60 for Arizona’s Presidential Preference Election, leading to wait times as long as five hours for voters in Maricopa County.

On Thursday, members of Pstross’ group will join the Arizona Center for Empowerment, Mi Familia Vota, and several civic engagement groups will form the Arizona Commission for Election Accountability.  They have met with Secretary of State Michele Reagan and county recorders to develop plans to administer elections better.

They already have some suggestions.

“(One of them is to) use modern technology to identify places to have polling locations, and to have automatic voter registration, so that people can easily be registered to vote,” said Pstross.  “Frankly, we think there needs to be a lot more early voting locations.  We’ve suggested Gammage Auditorium at ASU.  There’s no voting location sites planned for on campus at ASU.”

Pstross added that, “Voting is the heart of our democracy and when people are not able to vote easily and do not have reasonable access to voting, the result is voter suppression, and that is unacceptable.”

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