Arizona election officials have shuttered hundreds of polling places across the state since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down important protections in the Voting Rights Act in 2013, according to a survey by civil rights groups.
The survey studied the 13 states where the federal government had oversight of voting changes before the Court’s ruling and found that Arizona officials closed 320 polling locations between 2012 and 2018, the second-biggest number of closures among the 13 states.
While most of the closures (149) were in Maricopa County, Arizona officials have closed voting sites across 13 of the state’s 15 counties, according to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Arizona officials claim the primary reason for the closures is that many counties switched to a model where voters are now allowed to vote at the polling place of their choice instead of being assigned to specific polling locations. “While the raw number of polling locations may be lower, the actual opportunities voters have to go vote in person are way bigger,” Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes told The Arizona Republic.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 required states with histories of discrimination to obtain federal approval before making election rule changes, but in the court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, the justices declared such requirements unconstitutional, arguing they imposed an “undue burden” on local governments.
Civil rights groups disagree and say the decision gutted rules that were critical to protecting the voting rights of people of color. Since the ruling, several Republican-led states have moved swiftly to pass stringent voter restriction laws and shutter polling locations.
While civil rights and voting rights advocates remain concerned, the closures have not negatively impacted turnout yet. Arizona saw nearly 65% voter turnout during the 2018 election, which was higher than turnout in recent midterm elections.
Alex Gulatta, Arizona state director of advocacy group All Voting Is Local, told the Arizona Republic that concerns still linger, however, because counties have implemented the practices without uniform standards.
“What we do know is that, since 2013, there have been problems in every election,” Gulatta said.