A large crowd of supporters attended this rally for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders on March 15 in Phoenix. Sanders and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, have joined a Democratic Party lawsuit alleging racial bias after voters in minority-heavy neighborhoods were forced to wait in line for hours to cast ballots during the Arizona's primary. Photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo
PHOENIX, April 14 (UPI) -- Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are each joining a lawsuit being brought by the Democratic National Committee against Arizona election officials after Democrats say voters were forced to wait in five-hour lines during the party's presidential primary last month.
The problem in Arizona was particularly acute in Maricopa County, the state's largest, after elections officials reduced the number of polling places from 200 to 60 in an effort to save money. Democrats said the polling locations that were axed were primarily in minority neighborhoods, disproportionately targeting Democratic-leaning voters.
Reports from the Arizona primary found lines stretching for blocks and at least 20 individuals contacted the Maricopa County elections office to complain they were not allowed to vote.
The Arizona primary was what's known as a "closed" primary, meaning only people who are registered as Democrats were permitted to vote. Independents and recent party converts, however, should have been permitted to cast provisional ballots elections officials are supposed to examine later to determine whether the ballot was legally cast and included in the final tally.
Elections officials attributed part of the long wait times to confusion among poll monitors over the rules.
Clinton handily defeated Sanders in Arizona,winning 58 percent of the vote. The Sanders camp complained bitterly in the wake of the voter irregularities that the long lines contributed to Sanders' lopsided defeat.
Representatives for both campaigns have since agreed there were massive problems with election administration and said they wanted to join the lawsuit to correct the problem before the general election.
"Republicans are using every tool, every legal loophole and every fear tactic they can think of to take aim at voting rights wherever they can," DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. "And what they're aiming at is clear -- they want nothing less than to disenfranchise voting groups who are inconvenient to them on Election Day."
Elections officials in Maricopa County have acknowledged their mistake in drastically reducing the number of polling places open to the public. Afterward officials said they had based their decision on the state's new early voting policy, which they thought would reduce Election Day traffic, and low turnout during the last Democratic presidential primary in 2012.
Maricopa County officials denied the decision on which polling locations to close was based on racial bias.
The DNC, the Clinton and Sanders campaigns, the Democratic Senate candidate Ann Kirkpatrick and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee plan to file the lawsuit in federal district court in Phoenix on Friday.
It names Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, the Maricopa County board of supervisors and Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, a Republican, whose office actually oversees the administration of elections.
"Helen's career has been focused on trying to make voting easier and more accessible. There was absolutely no way she tried to make it harder for voters to vote or to suppress anyone from voting," Elizabeth Bartholomew, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Recorder's office, told CNN. "At the end of the day, it was just a huge miscalculation and a mistake. And we're moving forward and making changes to make sure that that never happens again."