McSally's lead over Barber falls to 363 as Pima count continues
Tens of thousands of ballots still to tabulate
See this update from Saturday: No new count in Barber-McSally race until Monday
See this update from Friday: McSally-Barber count favoring challenger by 509
In the latest results, Martha McSally led U.S. Rep. Ron Barber by 363 votes Thursday, after being up just a few dozen votes in the count Wednesday morning. Barber picked up 960 votes in the spread as Pima County reported additional vote tallies.
The current totals, not yet reflected in statewide data posted by the Secretary of State when this story was published, are 98,918 for the Republican challenger, and 98,555 for the Democratic incumbent in the CD 2 race. Tens of thousand of votes remain to be tabulated in Pima County, with many of them potentially affecting the race.
In 2012, Barber won by just 2,454 votes when all the votes were counted — which took days. His margin was less than one percent of the votes cast in the race.
"The vote leads continue to go up and down ... the trend is mimicking 2012," said Barber spokeswoman Ashley Nash-Hahn in a press release Thursday night. While Cochise County is a Republican stronghold, results from the more populated Pima County lean more Democratic.
The McSally camp didn't immediately issue a statement on the latest returns.
In results released Wednesday morning, McSally led Barber 78,785 to 78,749. In the afternoon, as Cochise County reported results, she increased her lead to 90,345-88,267.
As Pima County tallied more votes Wednesday, McSally's overall lead fell to a 94,103-92,810 (1,293 votes) spread.
Thursday, as Pima County tabulated another 16,000 votes, Barber's deficit dropped 960 votes, to just a 363-vote spread.
About 14,000 Pima ballots remain to be counted, with about another 10,000 provisional ballots to be reviewed and possibly added to the tally if they prove valid.
While it's not known how many of the outstanding ballots are from CD 2, about 10,500 of the votes added to the count on Thursday were from the district, said county spokesman Mark Evans.
Read more about the long count in Pima County
The last few elections to determine Southeastern Arizona's congressional representative have taken days to tally, and this one looks to be no different.
In Pima County, a complete vote count could take another week, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said Thursday. Broken election machines and a high number of difficult-to-read ballots have slowed the process, he said.
With more than 40,000 ballots left to count on Thursday morning, Huckelberry said that a "higher than average number of ballots that cannot be read by the existing scanners" and two broken ballot scanners were contributing to the long count.
Statewide, there were still more than 309,000 ballots awaiting tabulation across the state, according to data released by the Secretary of State's Office.
As of noon Thursday, those ballots included some 210,000 in Maricopa County, nearly 28,000 in Pinal County, and Pima County's remaining ballots. Most other counties had between 3,000 and 7,000 ballots left to be tallied.
Thursday morning, there were 41,155 ballots left to tabulate in Pima County, Evans said.
In one of the few hotly contested local legislative races, incumbent Republican Ethan Orr was narrowly losing his state House seat in LD 9. After Thursday's update, Democratic incumbent Victoria Steele had 30,286, Orr had 29,759 and Democratic challenger Randy Friese had 29,992 votes in the vote-for-two contest.
Although the Dems focused on beating Orr, whom they believed they could oust from his seat in a Democratic-leaning district, two other Ds are losing in state House races in solid blue districts.
In LD 2, incumbent Demion Clinco — appointed earlier this year — trailed seat-mate Rosanna Gabaldon and GOP challenger Chris Ackerley. In LD 4, Charlene Fernandez was trailing fellow Democrat Lisa Otondo and Republican Richard Hopkins.
Read more about Cochise County's ballot troubles
Technical troubles in Cochise County — where McSally made a strong 59-41 percent showing in 2012 — again delayed a complete tally there. In a repeat of problems demonstrated in the August primary, county officials said that they delivered their early ballots to Graham County to be counted.
"Due to discrepancies between the early ballot counting machine numbers and the handwritten tally, the County's early ballots have been delivered to Graham County for tabulation," said a notice on the Cochise website.
While Cochise officials said on their website that the early ballot count should be completed Wednesday, there were still a couple thousand left to tally on Thursday evening.
Jim Vlahovich, the interim director of the county's election department, said 2,121 early ballots and 1,161 provisionals remained to be counted.
Incomplete returns reported there showed McSally up 8,318 to 3,911 over Barber Wednesday morning, with the afternoon tally standing at 19,864-13,415 in favor of the Republican.
Vlahovich said Thursday that he didn't yet have an explanation for the problems with the Cochise count.
In Pima County, which is partly covered by Barber's CD 2, there were nearly 24,000 ballots remaining to review Thursday night. In a process that can take up to 10 days, provisional ballots and early ballots handed in on Election Day must be verified before they can be counted. There were about 14,000 ballots remaining to be counted, and 10,000 provisional ballots still needing to be reviewed, Evans said.
Not all ballots will be valid. The reason for the delayed count is the process of reviewing early ballots returned on Election Day, to ensure that duplicate ballots were not cast by individual voters, and the verification of provisional ballots.
Voters can drop mail-in ballots at polling places on Election Day, so officials review the voter rolls to ensure that voters do not vote more multiple times. Otherwise, a voter could cast a mail-in ballot and also vote in person at the polls.
Provisional ballots are cast by voters who do not have the proper ID, who are not listed on the rolls of the polling place they are casting a ballot at, and for other reasons. For voters who lacked proper ID, they have until 5 p.m. next Wednesday to provide proof of their identity at the County Recorder's Office, in order for their vote to be counted.
Barber campaign advisor Rodd McLeod said Wednesday that the congressman pushed Democrats to vote early in Cochise County.
"We don't think we're going to lose (the early vote) by anywhere near the numbers we lost the Election-Day ballot," he said. "All the tens of thousands of (still uncounted) Pima votes will even it out and we'll lead in the end," he said.
Team Barber continued to put out the message that they'll win, with Nash-Hahn saying Wednesday evening that, "As we expected, vote leads have gone up and gone down. Protecting the integrity of the vote is our priority. There are still tens of thousands of votes to be counted in Pima County, where Ron currently has a lead."
McSally also sounded a note of confidence, posting on her Facebook page Wednesday: "Right now, there are still many ballots to be counted and the race is too close to be called. It's critical that every last vote is counted and that all Arizonans have their voices heard."
Speaking to supporters just before 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Barber said he'd be re-elected.
Saying his campaign decided to "take the high road, rather than the low road," Barber noted his lead in the early vote count and said, "We are going to win this seat."
"We're making sure that dark money doesn't have a victory in Arizona," Barber said. "This is the third-most expensive House race in the country, because outside forces wanted to win this seat."
The vote count tightened after Barber spoke, with his lead dropping a point, to about 1,400 votes at that point.
"Man, you guys are the people who like to stay up late," said McSally to a thinning crowd of supporters around 10:30 p.m.
"We don't expect a decision tonight, so don't feel like you have to stay around late," she said.
"We have no regrets, we didn't leave anything on the table. We worked to get every vote. And we want to make sure that every last vote is counted," she said. "Looks like it's going to be another long night."
After McSally left the podium, "We are the Champions" by Queen played on the sound system.