Two weeks after the election, all valid ballots have finally been counted in Arizona. Frustrated community organizers, who registered a record number of Latino voters, are raising questions about the integrity of the state’s electoral process, however.
The tallies ended after officials allowed Maricopa and Pima Counties to extend their counts past last Friday. The extension gave counters time to get through tens of thousands of provisional ballots. While the final tallies did not change results announced on or shortly after election night, three Congressional races were undecided for three full days.
On election day, more than half a million votes had not been counted in Arizona. Election officials say that the hundreds of thousands of early mail-in ballots received just before election day are to blame for the delay. According to the LA Times, Maricopa County recorder’s officials received 200,000 early mail-in ballots on election day alone and throughout the state, more than 600,000 ballots were left uncounted on election day — out of about 2.2 million ballots cast during this year’s election.
The Secretary of State, Ken Bennett told the New York Times that it took just as long to count the ballots this year as it did in the last election. He said, “Speed is not our No. 1 goal. Accuracy is our No. 1 goal. But that doesn’t mean we can’t think of a way to speed up the process.”
Regardless, Democrats are calling for a bipartisan investigation into the election process in Arizona, citing a lack of cohesion and the difficulty some mail-in voters had in deciphering sample ballots from real ones.
According to the Daily Beast, many grassroots voter advocacy groups and voters say that first-time Latino voters who signed up to get their ballots by mail claimed not to have received them at all. This forced many Latino voters to use provisional ballots. Provisional ballots are for citizens who are not listed in their elections rolls at their polling place and for people who were sent a mail-in ballot but decided to vote in person. This is done to make sure the citizen isn’t voting twice.
More than 172,000 provisional ballots were cast in this year’s election. An estimated 122,000 originated from Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest county and home to about half its population.
While Maricopa’s county’s recorder, Helen Purcell, said it was possible some voters threw out their ballots because they didn’t know what they were, advocates countered that Arizona should have run a better voter-education campaign. Groups cited Maricopa’s October mishap, when several Spanish-language leaflets were sent out to Latino neighborhoods with the wrong election date listed. Officials blamed the mistake on a clerical error and revised the leaflets, but shortly after more were found with the wrong date listed in Spanish and the correct election date listed in English.
Other advocacy groups, including Promise Arizona – part of a coalition that registered almost 35,000 voters this year– told the Times that language barriers kept Spanish-speaking voters from properly understanding poll workers.
The vote-counting delay sparked hundreds of Latino youth to picket daily in front of the Maricopa County recorder’s office last week, demanding faster results and more transparency.
Brendan Walsh, chairman of Campaign for Arizona’s Future — a political action committee that is part of the Adios Arpaio campaign — told the LA Times that, “we cannot give them the benefit of the doubt when they made serious errors that show that they were not as attentive as they need to be in ways to include Latino voters and to count the Latino vote. There are certain mistakes that are inexcusable.”
Secretary of State Bennett said he’d met with Latino advocates and officials to reevaluate the vote-counting system delays, but he said that there was no indication that a specific demographic was treated differently at precincts.