- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - An Arizona judge on Monday rejected an effort to require Maricopa County to have court-approved plans in place for managing upcoming elections.

The order issued by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Hugh Hegyi turned away a request for a preliminary injunction that would have required Maricopa County and the secretary of state to file their election plans with the court for review.

The request by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law came as part of a lawsuit it filed over the way the county ran its troubled March 22 presidential primary election. It argues countless Arizona voters were disenfranchised by the cutting of polling places to just 60 from about 200 in the 2012 presidential primary and led to extremely long lines, in some cases exceeding five hours.

Hegyi noted those lines violated the Arizona constitution, but he called it an anomaly. He said the plaintiffs failed to meet the high legal burden for an injunction. but the case can still continue to trial.

“Impermissibly long wait times during the upcoming elections would unquestionably constitute irreparable harm to plaintiffs and to the voters of Maricopa County,” the judge wrote. “However, the burden was on the plaintiffs to convince this Court of the possibility of that irreparable harm by a preponderance of the evidence. They have failed to do so.”

County Recorder Helen Purcell plans to have 724 polling places in upcoming primary and general elections, the same as in previous election cycles.

“You remember I said I did something wrong? I did, I apologized for that,” Purcell said. “I can’t go back and undo it. I wish it I could. All we can do is go forward - and I think that’s another thing he said, we’re not looking at the rearview mirror any more.

“We’ve got to go forward with the primary and general and make sure we have things in place.”

Lawyers’ Committee President Kristen Clarke said the lawsuit itself will continue to ensure all voters have the right to cast a ballot with a focus on the November primary election. She noted that the judge found that the problems in the primary violated the state Constitution’s “free and equal elections” clause.

“What is very significant is this is the first time of which we are aware that an Arizona court has applied the free and fair election clause to a case of this kind,” she said. “We continue to believe that county and state officials failed to administer a free and fair election that allowed all voters who sought to participate the opportunity to do so.”

A second lawsuit filed by Democratic groups in federal court is pending and also seeks court oversight of elections based on the primary election problem. It also challenges a new state law that makes it a felony in most cases to collect someone else’s early ballot.

Democrats say that is designed to prevent their get-out-the-vote efforts, while Republicans argue it is needed to prevent fraud.

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