Mapping the Vote is a collaboration between the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting and the Arizona Capitol Times. The project included a precinct-level analysis of Arizona election data. Unless otherwise noted, you can republish these stories for free if you follow these rules.
By Evan Wyloge, Arizona Capitol Times
Nearly every person in Arizona who voted in the 2012 election cast a ballot for some presidential candidate, whether Mitt Romney, Barack Obama or some other candidate — except in the polygamist community of Colorado City.
In the isolated area that straddles the Arizona-Utah border, and which is home to perhaps the most highly publicized Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community in the United States, one of every three voters didn’t vote in the presidential race, but they did vote in others.
That is but one of the unusual pieces of data that emerge from a precinct-level vote analysis done jointly by the Arizona Capitol Times and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.
Hundreds of Colorado City voters didn’t cast a vote in the same handful of elections: the U.S. presidential race, the Arizona Senate race and the Mohave County attorney, sheriff and school superintendent’s races. But they did vote in the U.S. Senate race, the U.S. House of Representatives race, the Arizona House of Representatives race and the Mohave County treasurer, recorder and assessor races.
In races where the bloc of sporadic voters did participate, they topped the participation rate among all precincts in the county.
Vote participation rate for each precinct in Mohave County. The red line represents Colorado City. The orange lines represent the two precincts on Native American reservations. The blue lines represent the other 70 precincts in Mohave County. Roll over the chart for details about each precinct.
And in Colorado City, the winning candidates didn’t just take a majority of the vote. They won with closer to 100-percent victory margins than just about any other place in the state.
In lock step, 500 to 1,100 voters in Colorado City cast well more than 90 percent of their votes for the winner. Such high victory margins show up in a few other precincts in the state, but usually where only a very small group of voters — such as two to 15 people — cast ballots.
For the U.S. Senate race in Colorado City, Republican Jeff Flake got 93.2 percent of the vote, Libertarian Marc Victor got 4.4 percent and Democrat Richard Carmona got 2 percent. While Flake won a resounding victory over Carmona throughout Mohave County, the vast majority of precincts were close to the county’s 62 percent support for Flake and 31 percent for Carmona.
Throughout Mohave County, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar earned a 69 percent victory over his Democratic opponent Johnnie Robinson, who got 26 percent of the vote. While nearly all of the precincts in the county were within 10 percentage points of that, in Colorado City Gosar got 93 percent and Robinson got 2 percent.
The monolithic voting pattern holds true down the ticket and is unmatched throughout the state.
The hundreds of Colorado City residents who swung between voting in some races and not for others were largely voters who went to the polling place, not who used early ballots. Poll inspectors placed by the county in the Colorado City polling location said they saw nothing out of the ordinary.
While there is broad agreement that Colorado City’s voting patterns are unusual, there’s little agreement about what the cause might be.
Fred Solop, a political science professor at Northern Arizona University, attributes the trends to a strong group-think mentality.
When a community is as tightly knit as Colorado City, where practically everyone is bound to the same communal life, Solop theorized, community leaders only need to give soft references to candidates they support or oppose to encode instructions for the community about how they’re expected to vote.
Solop said a community like Colorado City is a place where such group-think could almost be predicted.
Sam Brower, a private investigator who spent years tracing criminal accusations in the community, said it’s even more direct than that.
He asserted that the church is the center of the community and dictates the everyday lives of its members. And even though long-time leader Warren Jeffs is locked up in a Texas prison, he still calls the shots for the community, Brower said.
Brower said his investigations lead him to believe that church leaders disseminate specific voting instructions through the church structure.
Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, who said she regularly visits the community with other state and county officials, agrees that the church has a substantial impact on the community and that a group-think mentality may permeate its members’ actions.
Their homogenous vote, Goodale said, is a reflection of a community with a very deeply shared set of values and beliefs.
Goodale said she disagrees with the conclusion that Browers often reaches — that the community is maliciously controlled by the church.
Ultimately, she contends, the community is made of decent people who are misunderstood and placed under a cloud of unwarranted critique.