These Insanely Long Lines Are A Big Problem — Here's Why

The significance of this election feels tangible and weighty and personal suddenly. The line to vote at the Utah House District 24 Democratic Caucus tonight with Anson Fogel.

Posted by Alexandra Fuller on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How long would you wait to cast your ballot?

For some voters this week, the answer was several hours.

While the turnout is a sure sign that people are fired up about the presidential campaign, recent issues at the polls,combined with sky-high interest in the race, have sparked concerns about voter suppression and the possibility of more potential problems to come.

In Maricopa County, Arizona, residents complained that waits exceeded five hours due to ballot and staffing shortages, according to local reports. Cuts in the number of polling sites meant there was just one location for every 21,000 voters. For Aracely Calderon, a 56-year-old from Guatemala who became a U.S. citizen in 2012, that meant waiting five hours behind hundreds of other voters. She cast her ballot at 12:12 a.m. on Wednesday, The Arizona Republic reported.

Phoenix's mayor blasted the election day as "a fiasco" and called for an independent investigation into these issues.

And in Utah, turnout was also "unprecedented," The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Lines stretching a block or more out the door remained until 9 p.m. Some Democratic caucus sites ran out of ballots. One video posted on Facebook by a pair of Utah filmmakers appears to show a caucus queue that snaked around several blocks. The video, posted above, has received more than 1 million views so far.

"The significance of this election feels tangible and weighty and personal suddenly," said Alexandra Fuller, who posted the video and wrote in the post. Fuller told Refinery29 that it took her and her partner Anson Fogel 15 minutes to "slow jog" from the back of the line to the entrance for the Democratic caucus. The mood, she said, was one of excitement and "neighborliness," even though people were turning out for different campaigns.

"Everyone in that line felt a sense of empowerment and pride and that they had more in common than less," she said.

But, as The New York Times noted on Friday, some experts are worried that the problems in the primaries could signal bigger issues come November. They worry that the combination of new voter ID laws and last year's Supreme Court ruling on a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which previously required some states and regions get federal approval for changes to their election plans ahead of the vote, could keep people from the polls.
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Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections for the watchdog group Common Cause, called the issues in Arizona "really worrisome." While some of the changes that led to the long lines, such as the decision to significantly cut the number of polling stations, "weren't necessarily nefariously minded... this is the kind of thing that [the Department of Justice] could have caught beforehand, when Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was still in place,” she told Refinery29.

Following the lead of states that have enacted significant voting reforms, such as same-day registration, and recommendations from a presidential commission created in the wake of the 2012 election, could alleviate future issues.

“There’s a lot we can and should be doing to make sure people have the information and access they need in order to make their voices heard,” she said. “It’s incumbent on states to make sure they’re doing everything they can to make sure younger voters and millennials are showing up."

Democrats are set to make their picks for the presidential nominee in three more states this weekend: Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington state. Another big test for voting access, as The Times notes, will be Wisconsin's April 5 primary. The state is one of nine to adopt strict voter ID laws.

As for what you can do to prepare for your own trip to the polls, Chapman urges voters to “make sure you know the ins and outs of your state laws." That means checking on your registration status, polling site, and any requirements in place, such as a need to bring along a specific form of identification, in advance.

If you do encounter issues at the polls, Common Cause provides support on the ground and over the phone. The toll-free Election Protection hotline can be reached at 1-866-OUR-VOTE, or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA for help in Spanish.

“There are people all across the country who are going to be fielding calls and troubleshooting,” Chapman said.
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