- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona’s most populous county has agreed to implement a plan to avoid polling place wait times to settle a lawsuit a civil rights group filed after thousands of people waited for hours to vote in the March presidential primary.

The settlement announced Thursday by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law requires Maricopa County to implement a plan to monitor and reduce wait times before the Nov. 8 general election. It must continue the program in each primary and general election through 2020.

Lawyers’ Committee President Kristen Clarke says the settlement shows county elections officials are serious about avoiding voting problems.

“Arizona’s election officials have acknowledged their debt to voters and are now putting in place the reforms needed to prevent a recurrence of these problems in November,” Clarke said in a statement.

Elizabeth Bartholomew, spokeswoman for the county recorder’s office, said the plan has been in place since early this month.

The county cut polling locations to just 60 from about 200 in 2012, but it returned to the normal 724 polling places for the August state primary and for the general election. The polling place reduction and the fact that independents could not vote as they can in regular primary elections were seen as the two main causes of the problems, which saw some voters waiting for more than five hours to cast their ballots.

The lawsuit was one of several filed after problems with the March 22 election. One that continues involves the state and national Democratic Party, which is challenging the state’s practice of disallowing ballots cast by voters in the wrong precinct and a new state law that bars collecting of early ballots by get-out-the-vote groups. A federal judge declined to block the new law or to order the out-of-precinct ballots to be counted, but those decisions are being appealed.

In the settlement announced Thursday, Maricopa County will implement a comprehensive plan to reduce wait times. The plan will including training poll workers and supervisors, putting in place a response plan if wait times exceed 30 minutes and urge pollworkers to use a Hotline to report problems.

The plan will be shared with outside groups before each election and poll workers will be trained on its use.

The civil rights groups and state and national Democrats point to a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated a Voting Rights Act provision that required Arizona and some southern state to get Justice Department approval before changing voting practices.

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.

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