Arizona: More Than 600,000 Ballots Remain Uncounted
November 08, 2012

Photo by Jude Joffe-Block
Young activists concerned with irregularities on Election Day and the volume of unprocessed ballots hold signs outside of the Maricopa County elections department facility where ballots are being counted.

PHOENIX -- Late Wednesday, the Arizona Secretary of State's office released the figures: at that point, 602,334 early and provisional ballots had yet to be counted statewide.

Earlier in the day, a rowdy group of activists chanted and marched outside of a Maricopa County elections facility where votes are being counted in the hopes of finding out how many ballots had not yet been tallied.

Since the summer, many had worked to boost Latino voter turnout and to ultimately oust Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

That latter didn't happen on Election Day. But the crowd wanted to understand the number of ballots not included in the first round of results released on Tuesday night. They also had concerns about the number of voters who had to use provisional ballots at the polls, and reports of voters on the early voting list who never received their early ballots in the mail.

"We could do what some people are saying, 'It is going to work itself out, it is not going to impact the results of the election,'" said Brendan Walsh, one of the organizers, and executive director of Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy. "But at a certain point it is just too many."

A few hours later, state election officials announced the number of pending early ballots and provisional ballots in each county. In Maricopa County, 344,000 early ballots hadn't yet been counted, though Maricopa County officials said they had processed 44,500 of those by Wednesday night.

Plus, 115,000 voters in the county cast provisional ballots and those must be verified before they are tallied.

Both figures seem to be higher than County Recorder Helen Purcell's prediction that about 100,000 early ballots would be turned in at poling places on Election Day, and 70,000-75,000 provisional ballots.

Voters are given provisional ballots at the polls if they appear on the early voting list, do not appear on the voter list, or do not meet voter identification requirements, among other reasons.

Those who don't meet ID requirements have to vote "conditional provisional" ballots that are only counted if the voter returns to the county elections department to present the required documents within five days.

Each provisional ballot is scrutinized. Those that do not meet requirements are discarded. Provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct cannot be counted.

When reached for comment late Wednesday, Secretary of State spokesman Matthew Roberts said the number of provisional ballots and early ballots left to count is not unusual. In 2008, about 100,000 voters cast provisional ballots in Maricopa County.

According to calculations by Fronteras Desk using Maricopa County data, the number of ballots that were not processed in time to be included in the results released Tuesday night could be as many as 30 percent of those cast by county voters.

In at least one race, the number of ballots still in play is having an impact.

"I had no idea at 9:30 this morning there would be this many uncounted ballots," said Pima County Sheriff candidate Republican Mark Napier on Wednesday.

Napier thought he had already lost his bid to be Pima County Sheriff. He retracted his concession when he realized tens of thousands of early ballots in his county had not yet been counted.

As of Wednesday evening, the number of uncounted ballots in Pima was 54,541 early ballots, and 26,194 provisional ballots. Initial reports were as high as 80,000 uncounted votes earlier in the day.

"Since we are only down by about 8,000 votes, that is a lot of votes still out there," Napier said. "I want to make sure that all the voters are heard before I concede this race."

In Arizona, county recorders have until Nov. 16 to count the ballots before the results are formally certified.