The election might have ended, but Arizona is still counting votes from the presidential election. (Photo: Jonathan Gibby/Getty Images)

Arizona Latinos elated over turnout, frustrated over voter problems

Dora Luna, a spokesperson from the group Promise Arizona, says there is a simple reason why her group has been monitoring last week’s voting as well as the  ballot counting which is still going on in the state.

“We knocked on the doors of many Latino families, explained the importance of voting, and the community responded — they went out and voted,” says Luna. “Now many are asking us, ‘Is my vote being counted?’  she adds.

While the news out of Arizona is on the continued counting of ballots since last Tuesday, there is good news when it comes to the state’s Latino vote.

“While we will have more specific numbers in a few weeks, there is no doubt there was larger Latino turnout and participation in these elections,” says Rodolfo Espino, an associate professor of politics and government at Arizona State University.

While it is good news that more of the state’s Hispanics took part in the electoral process, groups like Promise Arizona have been very busy monitoring why many voters were met with inordinately long lines, missing names from voter lists, confusion about correct voting locations, and the large use of provisional ballots.  “We were finding between 33 and 40 percent of voters were using provisional ballots, and one precinct had 300 provisional ballots out of a little over 400 ballots,” says Teresa Falcon, the organization’s executive director.  Her group received credentials to visit some precincts, and they observed some of these voter problems firsthand.

Falcon cites issues such as the recent redistricting, the consolidation of precincts — there were 400 fewer polling sites in this election — and a lack of staff training as factors that contributed to voting confusion and delays.

“I think last Tuesday’s election should be a wake-up call that election officials need to step up their game,” says Arizona State’s Espino.  He adds that even if election officials had the best intentions to conduct well-run elections,  “if anything resulted in someone not being able to vote, that’s disenfranchisement — election officials have to work harder to make sure elections are run properly.”  Before the elections, there were other voting concerns, too. Maricopa County had issued Spanish-language voter ID cards with the wrong election date — the Spanish card said the election was November 8th, not November 6th.

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who oversees the state’s elections, has defended the way the elections have been conducted.  Bennett was recently quoted in the Arizona Republic saying “there are a few groups that are fueling the flames that this is something unusual. Nothing could be further from the truth,” adding their focus is on “trying to include as many people as possible.”

In terms of the delay in vote counting, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell noted there was a greater number of provisional ballots cast by voters who should have received an early ballot in the mail, saying only 80 percent of early ballots had been returned, according to the Arizona Republic.  The article also quoted Bennett saying more voters might have moved due to job losses or foreclosure, which might have contributed to more provisional ballots if a person’s voter address information was not updated.

The counting has left some too-close-to-call elections, like the congressional race between Democrat Ron Barber and Republican Martha McSally, hanging in the balance and has led to a legal dispute over counting the provisional ballots.  Yet voter issues and candidate races  notwithstanding, Latino groups are holding a rally today to celebrate one thing — what these groups call the “real winners of the election — Arizona’s powerful bloc of new Latino voters,” according to a press release from the group Unite Here!

Promise Arizona’s Dora Luna says her group has registered about 34,000 new Latino voters since May.  “The community might not be happy about the election issues, but for the first time in a long time, they feel empowered; they see changes in the politics and even in politicians, who are finally paying attention to us,” says Luna.  Proof of this, says Luna, is Governor Jan Brewer’s recent comments that immigration reform would be ‘fine and dandy,’ though her office later said she still believes securing the border comes first.

Despite the success of higher Latino voter turnout, Promise Arizona’s Petra Falcon says it is important to ensure all votes were counted appropriately.

“We want to be able to go back to the community and say we made sure their vote counted,” says Falcon.  She adds, “what is at stake is not just the votes, but developing long-term trust in the system, and long-term confidence in our democracy.”

%d bloggers like this: