New lawsuit seeks court oversight of Maricopa County elections

PHOENIX (AP) -- A new lawsuit challenging the way Arizona's most populous county ran its troubled presidential primary election was filed Thursday and seeks court oversight of future elections to prevent a repeat of problems.

The suit filed by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of two voters says that Maricopa County and Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan disenfranchised countless Arizona voters by cutting the number of polling places to just 60 from about 200 in the 2012 presidential primary. The cut in polling places was one of the causes of lines that exceeded five hours in some locations in the March 22 election.

The lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court is the latest to emerge from the troubled election. An effort to have the results thrown out was rejected by a county judge in April. National Democrats and presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are also asking a federal judge to oversee future elections and to issue a ruling requiring out-of-precinct provisional ballots to be counted and that a new state law barring ballot collection is unconstitutional. That case is pending.

The new suit seeks a court judgment saying that the reduction in polling places violated voters' rights under the Arizona Constitution and state law by making them wait for hours to cast a ballot. It also asks the court to issue an injunction requiring election officials to create a plan to reduce wait times in future elections and court supervision of that plan.

In addition to Reagan, the suit names County Recorder Helen Purcell and the county board of supervisors as defendants.

A spokeswoman for Purcell, Elizabeth Bartholomew, could not immediately comment because she hadn't seen the suit. Reagan spokesman Matthew Roberts also had no immediate comment.

"No voter should face the significant and unendurable wait times experienced by Arizona voters during the recent presidential preference primary election," Lawyers' Committee president Kristen Clarke said in a statement. "We need to ensure that all eligible voters are allowed to participate in our democracy and do not face unnecessary barriers to the ballot box.

Clarke noted that Maricopa County's decision to cut the number of polling places would have required Justice Department pre-clearance before a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled against a Voting Rights Act provision that allowed that oversight.

The Washington, D.C.-based Lawyers' Committee is a non-partisan nonprofit formed in 1963 at the request of then-President John. F. Kennedy to address racial discrimination.