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Phoenix-area election official: Voters chose to stand in the long lines

Voters wait in line to cast their ballot in Arizona's presidential primary election, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Gilbert, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — An Arizona election official said the hours-long wait some voters endured to cast their ballot in the state’s presidential preference was partially their own fault but she apologized for the debacle.

“Well, the voters (are to blame) for getting in line, maybe us for not having enough polling places, or as many as we usually have,” Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell said in an interview with Fox 10 on Tuesday night.

“I’m sorry they had to wait that long but I’m glad they went out to vote,” she said.

Voters were still in line in some places well after midnight. They were allowed to vote. Polls close at 7 p.m.

Purcell later said, “They’re not to blame for standing in line but they went to the polling places. They could have voted early…that was their option. I think it’s wonderful voters went to the polls, that’s what we encourage them to do all the time.”

Elizabeth Bartholomew of the county elections department said Purcell misspoke when partially blaming voters.

“She absolutely did not mean that,” Bartholomew said. “It’s of no fault to the voter. We claim full responsibility for this.”

There were 60 polling locations in the county, down from 200 in previous elections. This time, voters could go anywhere, not relegated to their neighborhood as they had before.

Purcell said low turnout over the past several years factored in the reduced number of polling places.

Maricopa County turnout was about 43 percent.

She attributed the unexpected number of voters to the campaigns making recent stops in the Valley.

GOP front-runner Donald Trump, rival Ted Cruz and Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have all paid visits to the area in the past month or so.

“We knew a third of our voters could not vote in this election so that takes away a whole group. And then we looked at where polling places could be in large locations so that we could have a lot of machines and poll workers there,” Purcell said.

But independents did show up at the polls, Purcell said. “We have to allow them to vote.”

In those instances, they received provisional ballots, “which will not count, but we have to do the paperwork on that, anyway,” Purcell said.

Gov. Doug Ducey said in a statement, “Voting is one of our most important rights and responsibilities, and yesterday, a record number of Arizonans turned out to cast their choice for president.

“I’m glad to see so many Arizonans step up to make their voice heard for the candidate of their choice. However, it’s unacceptable that many of them had to battle incredibly long lines. Our election officials must evaluate what went wrong and how they make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Purcell said while the voting realities were problematic, “when you get people out to vote is that a failure? I don’t think so.”

But, “we will see if we need to do something different.”

One difference will be in place when Arizona’s presidential primary rolls around in August and the general election in November. There will be 724 polling spots in the county, according to Bartholomew.

“We thought those 60 polling places were enough,” she said. “It clearly wasn’t.”

Bartholomew said her office fielded complaints for the better part of Tuesday, with the last call coming in at 2 a.m.

“We want to apologize for those long lines,” she said, adding that the county tried to add both machines and volunteers to speed things along.

“I don’t think it should take this much effort just to vote,” said Kathy Wilson, 75, who had been waiting a half-hour and was still toward the back of the line.

“With the weather so hot and so many senior people like me, this is getting dangerous to stand in these lines for so long in the sun.”

The Associated Press and KTAR’s Martha Maurer contributed to this report.

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