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500,000 Arizona ballots yet to tally, but vote count on track, say officials

500,000 Arizona ballots yet to tally, but vote count on track, say officials

114,000 'late early' ballots left to tabulate in Pima County

  • After running them through a vote-counting machine, an election worker gathers ballots at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center on Thursday, when more than 500,000 statewide still needed to be counted.
    Drake Presto/Cronkite NewsAfter running them through a vote-counting machine, an election worker gathers ballots at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center on Thursday, when more than 500,000 statewide still needed to be counted.

There are still more than 500,000 ballots to be counted from Tuesday’s elections — including 114,000 in Pima County and more than 300,000 in Maricopa County — but officials insisted they are still on schedule to complete the count.

Pima officials said they expect to have 95% of ballots verified and sent to be counted by Monday.

Even if that schedule is not as fast as some would like.

With a number of high-profile races still too close to call, interest in the vote counting is high. But as of Thursday evening, the secretary of state’s office said there were 571,813 uncounted ballots, compared more than to 2.06 million that had been tallied.

Those figures didn't seem to reflect an 8 p.m. addition of about 79,000 ballots to the counted pile in Maricopa County.

But election officials said they expected the counting to be done by early next week, if not sooner, what they called a normal pace compared to recent elections.

“We can expect the majority of ballots will be tabulated by the weekend with some counties finishing up early next week,” said a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office. She said counties must canvass results by Nov. 28 and statewide canvassing is due on Dec. 5.

Local officials said voters need to understand that ensuring accuracy while processing and counting votes simply takes time.

Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly said Thursday that there were about 53,000 ballots yet to be verified, or otherwise "awaiting some portion of the process," and that the county had about 1,000 "problem ballots" were officials were trying to contact voters.

"They have until the 16th at 5 p.m. to return our phone call," she said, telling reporters that the Recorder's Office attempts to contact voters who need to "cure" their ballots by phone, email and a mailed letter.

"This is the standard amount of time that it takes; this is what it always takes," the recorder said. "We're following the law, we're following the Elections Procedures Manual," calling the pace of the ballot review "kind of phenomenal."

Wednesday afternoon, there had been about 160,000 Pima ballots remaining to be counted.

There were 15 ballots from people who voted in person on Tuesday, who had also submitted early ballots, Cázares-Kelly said.

"Probably (by) people who were anxious" because they hadn't yet been notified that their early ballots had been received and counted, she said. Those ballots were "removed" from the count, she said.

The recorder, an elected Democrat, again touted the county's new "vote center" model for a reduction in the number of provisional ballots that were cast.

There were 2,460 provisional ballots in Pima County on Tuesday, while "in a comparable election I believe there were 18,000," she said. "The majority were address changes — people who needed to update their voter registration."

Constance Hargrove, Pima County's election director, said that county officials and representatives of local political parties are prepared to conduct the legally mandated hand-count audit of 2% of the votes on Saturday.

“It’s a long process,” said Coconino County Elections Director Eslir Musta. “We’re here to do it and to complete it and make sure that, in our county, voters can have the confidence that every ballot is going to be counted.”

For some, like political consultant Jason Rose, not having immediate results is anxiety-inducing. But he understands that’s the way it is.

“It’s frustrating,” Rose said. “It’s nerve-wracking. It’s horrible, I mean, it’s Chinese water torture, but those are the rules.”

Musta said that Coconino County still had 25,526 ballots to count as of Thursday. Of that number, 12,360 were mail-in ballots that were having signatures verified to make sure they match signatures on file. About 1,000 were provisional ballots that the recorder has to process individually, and 12,166 were ready for tabulation Thursday, he said.

Coconino had processed 78% of its ballots by Thursday evening, about the middle of the pack among counties at that time that had reported a completion percentage to the secretary of state’s office. Gila County was one of several that had not reported a percentage to the state, but county Elections Director Eric Mariscal said the count is on pace with years past.

“We usually, in Gila County, have all of our results done by Friday and that’s the way it’s been since I’ve been here for the last 16-plus years,” he said.

Only Greenlee County – whose 4,669 registered voters are the fewest in the state by far – reported processing all of its ballots by Thursday afternoon. One reason the other 14 counties were still counting late Thursday, besides their larger size, is the high number of drop-off and mail-in ballots, officials said.

Mariscal, Musta and Paul Bentz, the senior vice president of research and strategy at HighGround consulting, said there were an unusually high number of those ballots this year. That can slow the process down, they said.

The process can include confirming signatures, waiting for voters to come in with proper identification for a provisional ballot, and even flattening ballots that may have been wrinkled and folded in the mail, said Ryan Williamson, a governance fellow at the R Street Institute.

“They can’t just be snatched up and put into a tabulator,” like ballots cast in-person in a polling place, Williamson said. “They have to be signature-verified and if there’s some sort of error beyond a missing signature, then voters have an opportunity to cure their ballots or fix those mistakes.”

Even though voters and candidates may be impatient, Williamson said Arizona is not that far behind other states, all of which were still in the process of counting ballots Thursday.

“Arizona’s not even last place in terms of votes counted,” Williamson said.

Bentz said Arizona is on pace with the last few elections: There were 628,000 ballots left to be counted and processed after Election Day in 2016, he said, about 600,000 in 2018 and 659,000 in 2020.

Bentz is confident that counting will continue into the weekend, and that results will start to finalize on Monday.

Until then, officials said, voters will just have to wait.

“We’re in an age of Facebook and Twitter and everybody wants to know,” Mariscal said. “It just doesn’t work that way, though. There’s processes that have to be put in place.”

The most up-to-date vote totals are available at the Arizona Secretary of State's Office site:

Statewide results

Pima County results

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