Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich had little choice but to appoint a special investigator to find out what went wrong when more than 533,000 registered voters failed to get an informational pamphlet explaining the pros and cons of the two propositions on the May 17 ballot.
With the federal Department of Justice now making inquiries about decisions that led to long lines and disenfranchised voters after the March 23 Presidential Preference Election, a failure to act by the attorney general would add to suspicions that the state is complacent in addressing its election problems.
In fact, Arizona is more incompetent than it is conspiratory.
Secretary of State Michele Reagan has continued to maintain her innocence for the pamphlet mailing snafu, pointing to the work of a contractor as the cause of the problem. In fact, the secretary was less than transparent on the number of voters impacted and the contractor she blamed is stepping forward claiming Reagan is wrong. She first claimed only about 200,000 voters were affected and now the number has grown to almost every voter outside of Pima and Maricopa counties.
The Justice Department got involved after the March 23 election when the number of polling places in Maricopa County were reduced and federal officials voiced concern that the effect of that change made it more difficult for minority groups to cast ballots.
What they have found is that the decision to cut polling places was driven by cost, not conspiracy. County officials were forced to find savings when the State Legislature lowered how much money it planned to reimburse for the cost of the election, prompting the decision to cut the number of polling places. What followed was a bad plan that failed to properly alert voters in the Phoenix area of the changes, resulting in chaos on election day.
Heading into the Aug. 30 primary, Arizona needs to clean up its reputation before the federal government returns the state to a “pre-clearance” status, which would require every decision regarding state elections to be approved by the Justice Department.
That was the case in Arizona for many years, as the federal government sought to protect minority voting rights, and the state only recently emerged from that requirement after a 2009 Supreme Court decision.
The decision by Brnovich to find out what went wrong is the right step to take at a delicate time for Arizona elections.
This Editorial originally appeared in the Sierra Vista Herald.