When Katy O’Connor drove past her regular polling place, the Church of the Beatitudes in Phoenix, Arizona, on March 22, she noticed there were lines out the door at 7:30 AM. “I’ve voted at that church before and I’d never seen lines out on the street” she says.
But because she’d never voted in a primary election in Arizona, O’Connor wasn’t sure if this was an anomaly or not. Later she showed up to vote around 3:00 PM with her husband and son. By that point the lines were stretched down the street and around the corner. The couple realized that their son wouldn’t be able to wait in such a long line, so her husband took him home. By the time she was finally able to cast her ballot, she’d waited for more than three hours.
O’Connor works as an visual arts instructor at Grand Canyon University. She’s been featured in a long list of solo and group exhibitions, and works in mediums including painting and animation. On the day of the elections, she decided to start making sketches of people standing in line to vote. “I like to draw people in action and I’m trying to do that more,” she says. “That’s part of why I brought my sketchbook.” Not going anywhere for a while, O’Connor realized she was surrounded by potential subjects. “I thought that this is kind of perfect because everyone’s just kind of standing around doing nothing. They’re basically posing for me.’”
O’Connor saw people who waited for an hour in the line behind her before eventually giving up and going home. Another woman showed up with four children but quickly realized her wouldn’t be able to wait out the lines. “There was a sense of frustration, for sure,” she says. “People were angry.”
Eventually, O’Connor and others in line began to realize that something had gone wrong. “People were trying to figure out whose fault it was” she says.
When she finally got to where voters were being checked in, O’Connor says that they were unable to find the person standing next to her in the rolls. One election official remarked on not having enough Democratic ballots after O’Connor requested one. Apparently they had run out of them two hours earlier.
In the days following the election, protests sprang up both online and on the ground in Arizona. A WhiteHouse.gov petition to investigate the elections has received more than 200,000 signatures, and an official Department of Justice inquest is underway. O’Connor says she knows of at least two people who remember registering as Democrats who were turned away from the polls. The voter lists had them marked as independents, and since Arizona holds so-called “closed” primaries, only voters registered to the party whose primary they wish to vote in are eligible.
O’Connor says that the longer she waited in line, the more people starting talking. A sense of camaraderie began to develop between people, Someone ordered pizza, and eventually people came around to pass out water. “At one point the mayor came and he brought cookies for everyone” she says. By November, if the situation isn’t fixed, he better have a cake.
Illustrations courtesy of Katy O’Connor