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McSally pulls out 161-vote win in CD2, recount coming

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McSally pulls out 161-vote win in CD2, recount coming

'I'm here to declare victory. We've won'

  • McSally gives a victory speech to a group of supporters at what was billed as a 'thank you' party.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comMcSally gives a victory speech to a group of supporters at what was billed as a 'thank you' party.
  • McSally speaks with supporters at a gathering Wednesday night.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comMcSally speaks with supporters at a gathering Wednesday night.
  • McSally on election night.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comMcSally on election night.
  • McSally greeted supporters at a party Wednesday night.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comMcSally greeted supporters at a party Wednesday night.
  • Barber on election night.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comBarber on election night.
  • Workers at the Pima County elections center tallying the final batches of ballots, after 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
    via Pima County elections webcamWorkers at the Pima County elections center tallying the final batches of ballots, after 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Eight days after the election, we have a winner in Arizona's CD 2: The third time was the charm for Martha McSally, who finished with a razor-thin 161-vote lead over U.S. Rep. Ron Barber that will trigger an automatic recount.

"I'm here to declare victory. We've won," McSally told about 120 supporters as the final vote count was reported.

Barber's not conceding the race; his campaign said voters should await the results of the recount, which will happen next month.

The unofficial totals in CD 2 are 109,704 for the Republican challenger, and 109,543 for the Democratic incumbent.

Arizona's first-ever recount in a congressional race will be mandated because the difference between the candidates is 200 votes or less.

After Pima County officials counted more than 200 ballots freshly located Wednesday morning, and 89 provisionals in CD 2 that had been waiting to be tallied, McSally increased her lead by 28 votes over her total from the morning.

Saying that the campaign had been "bitter and divisive," McSally said "we need to heal some wounds."

"For those who did not support me, it's my pledge to represent you. That's really what it's about. There more that unites us than divides us," she told her supporters, who had already gathered at El Molinito on South Pantano Road on Wednesday evening before the vote count was released.

"We need to protect the A-10 and secure the border, and make sure the military is able to defend us," McSally said.

McSally initially declined to comment on her win when approached by the press.

"This event is really about the supporters. Can we do this in a bit?," she told a reporter. McSally campaign staffers urged journalists from the Sentinel and Arizona Daily Star to leave the event, but relented and let them report on her remarks to supporters — several of whom thanked the Sentinel for covering the event.

Barber's team said McSally's declaration of a win was premature.

"A few days after asking a judge not to count the votes of hundreds of Arizonans, Martha McSally is ahead by 7 hundredths of a percentage point," said campaign spokeswoman Ashley Nash-Hahn. "Arizona's law calls for a mandatory recount with a margin this tight."

"Instead of declaring victory, we should unite in the commitment to count the votes of Southern Arizonans, and respect the outcome when it is final," she said.

Barber indicated he'd work to add votes to his total during the recount, which officials said wouldn't be held until next month.

"With the unofficial counting of votes now complete, the result is so close that the law requires an automatic recount," said Nash-Hahn. "The law is written this way because every election includes some human error, and with an election as close as this one, it is important that we ensure the integrity of the results."

The incumbent Democrat's campaign will "will work to see that every lawful vote is counted," she said, noting that over 700 ballots were rejected as invalid by the Pima County Recorder before being counted.

Wednesday's count is the unofficial final tally, which will be certified by county and state officials before the recount next month.

"We expect similar results and will provide the necessary oversight to ensure accurate results" from the recount, McSally said in a written statement released Wednesday night.

"There are no Nov. 4 general election ballots remaining to be counted of any kind," said county spokesman Mark Evans.

Third-time charmer

Elections in Southeastern Arizona have been a series of rematches over the past few cycles.

Ron Barber was elected to Congress twice within six months in 2012. He gained his seat in a special election to replace the retiring Gabrielle Giffords, who stepped down a year after she was shot in the head in an assassination attempt.

Barber, an aide to Giffords at the time, was shot twice in that incident, which killed six and wounded 11 others.

In that contest, Barber beat two-time Republican candidate Jesse Kelly, who'd lost to Giffords just 18 months before. McSally, who lost the special GOP primary in the spring, ran against Barber and lost again in the November 2012 election.

For the former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, the third time was the charm.

McSally, who wears a gold aircraft on a chain around her neck, used her military resume and ability to maneuver around controversial issues to appeal to just enough voters in the divided district.

Arizona's 2nd Congressional District is heavy with retirees and military personnel, and includes two major bases: Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Ft. Huachuca.

Barber ran on the platform that succeeded for him in 2012, and for Giffords before that: emphasizing Social Security, casting votes on border issues that irked the liberal wing of the Democrats, and hitting his Republican opponent for being too conservative and beholden to the Tea Party.

In an image shift, McSally played down her conservative credentials this time around; in '12, she had to emphasize them in her unsuccessful primary against Kelly.

She also toned down references to her faith that had raised questions among some voters. In 2012, she's said she was "called by God" to run. That phrase didn't crop up two years later.

Instead, she strafed Barber with accusations that he was too tied to the Democratic establishment.

Ballots found Wednesday

In an election twist that's certain to raise eyebrows in some quarters, about 200 ballots turned up in Pima County on Wednesday, affecting the 133-vote margin that separated Martha McSally from U.S. Rep. Ron Barber. Voters in Green Valley's Continental School District were originally mailed misprinted ballots and sent replacements.

Officials found some 213 general election ballots in envelopes that were supposed to be used only for ballots from the elementary school board race.

The issue in the Continental district stemmed from a batch of misprinted early ballots mailed to voters.

Early voters in the school district were mistakenly told to pick three candidates instead of two in that race, so replacement ballots with only the school board race were sent, to be returned in separate envelopes. In sorting those 7,034 ballots, county staffers discovered some general ballots were returned by voters in envelopes that caused them to be left out of the CD 2 count.

The replacement ballots, which included only the elementary school board race, were identified via a bar code on the envelopes. Those were set aside and are scheduled to be counted Friday.

208 general ballots were found Wednesday morning as they were being processed to be counted, with another five ballots located in the afternoon, county spokesman Mark Evans said. Wednesday evening, Evans said that elections officials told him 212 such ballots had been counted, and said there was no immediate explanation for the one-ballot difference in the report.

The general election ballots from Continental residents in question were sent in by voters who mistakenly used the wrong envelopes, Evans said. Those ballots were among those to be counted Wednesday evening, he said earlier in the day.

The ballots were all from CD 2; given the conservative edge in Green Valley, they were unlikely to flip the race in Barber's favor.

There were also a handful of outstanding provisional ballots remaining to tally and add to the count Wednesday night, Evans said.

Rodriguez said there were only about a dozen conditional provisional ballots in CD 2 waiting on voters to provide ID by 5 p.m. Wednesday. Because provisional ballots are sent in batches, those ballots were holding up the count of about 98 ballots in the race. The recorder said she would provide an account of those ballots that were verified immediately after the deadline.

The Elections Department counted 182 conditional provisionals overall on Wednesday, Evans said, along with 6 other remaining provisional ballots and 6 ballots from Nov. 4 that had to be rerun.

"Nearly all" of the remaining ballots in CD 2 were counted Tuesday, officials said, as Republican Martha McSally held a dwindling lead over U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, up 133 votes as Pima County reported more votes.

Monday, a judge denied McSally's move to block the count of a number of provisional ballots. While Barber led handily in the count of outstanding early and provisional ballots in Pima County, and lead 52-48 among Pima voters overall, it wasn't enough to overcome McSally's lead in smaller Cochise County, which she with 60 percent of the vote, and her win among those who voted on Election Day.

Barber's team is likely to seek to add to their tally during the recount.

Noting that this is "the closest congressional election in Arizona history," Barber spokeswoman Ashley Nash-Hahn said Tuesday that "we remain committed to protecting the integrity of the vote in Southern Arizona. In Pima County, 782 voters had their ballots rejected, and those votes have not been counted. During the legal recount process, we will work to see that every lawful vote is counted."

Wednesday, Rodriguez released the final number of ballots that were rejected, saying 776 provisional ballots had not been verified in the county.

"There are still ballots left to count, but we are confident that when all ballots are in, our lead will hold," McSally posted on her Facebook page Tuesday evening. "We will continue to provide oversight of the process until then.

State officials indicated that any recount could not take place until December, after the official canvass is approved by county and state authorities.


"Nearly all" of the remaining ballots in CD 2 were counted Tuesday, officials said, as Republican Martha McSally held a dwindling lead over U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, up 133 votes as Pima County reported more votes. While McSally is the apparent winner of the election, an automatic recount will be held.

Monday, a judge denied McSally's move to block the count of a number of provisional ballots. While Barber led handily in the count of outstanding early and provisional ballots in Pima County, and lead 52-48 among Pima voters overall, it wasn't enough to overcome McSally's lead in smaller Cochise County, which she with 60 percent of the vote, and her win among those who voted on Election Day.

McSally court challenge fails

A request by GOP candidate McSally for a restraining order to halt the count of provisional ballots in Pima County was denied by a judge Monday. McSally, up just 341 votes in the morning, has had her lead slowly eroded as additional ballots have been tallied in her challenge to Barber.

Pima County Superior Court Judge James Marner refused McSally's request — filed by her lawyer on behalf of Jennifer Rawson, a failed Republican candidate for City Council in 2011 — for a restraining order to halt the count of provisional ballots, saying there was no irreparable harm in the count continuing.

McSally asked the judge to declare the ballots void, and bar officials from counting them.

Barber's team said a procedure that election workers sign the envelope containing a provisional ballot is a "technicality" that shouldn't void a vote if the signature is missing.

While McSally's team based their challenge on a claimed violation of procedures outlined in the elections manual from the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, Barber's attorney's dismissed those allegations.

Not included in their filing was a directive in the manual (page 182) that states that "a provisional ballot shall not be rejected solely for lack of signature on the affidavit by polling place election officials." Deputy County Recorder Chris Roads testified about that portion of the manual during Monday's hearing.

Read more about: Judge denies McSally move, says to continue counting Pima ballots

Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican, testified that the lack of a poll worker's signature should not be enough to disqualify a ballot, and that there are other procedures to ensure the validity of a ballot.

Barber's campaign blasted the move to challenge the ballots, and slow or halt the vote count, with spokeswoman Ashley Nash-Hahn saying that it was a "clear example of McSally trying to deny Southern Arizonans our right to vote."

"We're disappointed that a motion to shed more light on the rules being decided inside the Recorder's Office was denied," said McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak. ""Southern Arizonans deserve to know that all procedures are being followed to ensure ballots are valid and that rules aren't simply being decided on a whim."

McSally was targeting ballots from six Pima County precincts, five of them within CD 2, Democratic Party sources with knowledge of the vote count said.

Five of those precincts voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012 (precincts 53, 57, 58, 100, and 113) while the precinct outside the district swung for the Republicans.

McSally's legal team dropped the suit after the judge refused to halt the ballot count.

An account of the count

The Republican stronghold of Cochise County finished reporting nearly all of its ballots Friday — there are reportedly just 2 conditional provisional ballots left to verify there — while the the more populated Pima County, which leans more Democratic, forged on with a tally of about 13,000 outstanding ballots over the weekend.

Sunday, about 2,200 ballots were added to the totals in CD 2, with 3,355 ballots counted in the county. Earlier, officials had said it was unlikely that Pima would update the count until Monday.

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.

"As expected, the vote leads continue to go up and down. Thousands of ballots remain to be counted in Pima County, where Ron is leading, and we will likely see the trend go in the direction of 2012," said Barber spokeswoman Ashley Nash-Hahn in an email Friday night.

While McSally has led Barber since early Tuesday evening, her lead has shifted as new votes totals have been reported.

In results released last 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.

Midday Friday, new returns from Cochise bumped McSally back to a 772-vote lead, but Pima County votes released at 5:48 p.m. gave Barber a few more votes, moving the difference between the candidates to 317.

An update about an hour later from Cochise increased the totals for both, but gave McSally an edge, with 509 separating the two candidates.

Over the weekend, officials determined that 9,335 of Pima's 10,102 provisional ballots were valid.

Roughly 60 percent of the outstanding ballots counted after Election Day in Pima County were from CD 2. About 10,500 of the votes added to the total on Thursday were from the district, as were 10,259 of the 16,118 processed Friday, Evans said.

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 was to be no different.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said last week that a complete vote count could take until this Thursday. Broken election machines and a high number of difficult-to-read ballots slowed the process, he said.

With more than 40,000 ballots left to count last 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, on Monday there were still about 57,000 ballots awaiting tabulation across the state, according to data released by the Secretary of State's Office.

In one of the few hotly contested local legislative races, incumbent Republican Ethan Orr narrowly lost his state House seat in LD 9, down 131 votes. After Wednesday's update, Democratic incumbent Victoria Steele had 33,425, Orr had 32,928 and Democratic challenger Randy Friese had 33,059 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, other Ds were running worse than expected 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 by about 2,000 votes. In LD 4, Charlene Fernandez won by 188 votes over Republican Richard Hopkins, as updates from Yuma County shifted the race. Earlier, she had trailed, while fellow Democrat Lisa Otondo led the pack.

In central Tucson's LD 10, incumbent state Rep. Stefanie Mach was re-eleected with 31,163 votes, with her closest challenger, Todd Clodfelter garnering 29,940. Mach's Democratic seat-mate Bruce Wheeler easily returned to the House with 32,731. Republican William Wildish trailed the field with 25,240 in the race.

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 last Wednesday.

While Cochise officials said on their website that the early ballot count should be completed the day after the election, 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 from Cochise showed McSally up 8,318 to 3,911 over Barber last Wednesday morning, with tally that afternoon at 19,864-13,415 in favor of the Republican.

Friday morning, the count stood at 21,117 for McSally to 14,259 for Barber. Friday night, a report showed McSally up 27,731-14,681 in the heavily GOP county.

Vlahovich said last Thursday that he didn't yet have an explanation for the problems with the Cochise count.

Friday, Cochise had tallied nearly all of its votes, with just a pair of conditional provisional ballots left to verify.

In Pima County, which is partly covered by Barber's CD 2, there were about 13,000 ballots remaining to review last Friday 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 3,726 ballots remaining to be counted at the Elections Department, and roughly 9,400 provisional ballots still needing to be verified, Evans said.

Sunday, 9,335 of those were announced as being verified. On Monday night, officials said there were about 4,000 ballots left to count in Pima County.

Tuesday, Pima had counted all of its ballots but the conditionals waiting on voters to provide proof of ID.

Wednesday, the Recorder's Office reviewed 218 conditional provisionals, with 36 not making the cut on the final day of counting ballots in the county.

Not all provisional ballots are found valid. The reason for the delayed count was partly 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 had until 5 p.m. Wednesday to provide proof of their identity at the County Recorder's Office, in order for their vote to be counted.

Election night spin

Barber campaign advisor Rodd McLeod said last 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 last 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 last 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. on election 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. last Tuesday.

"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.

Election results

Rejected ballots

Of 10,118 provisional ballots reviewed by the Pima County Recorder's Office, 9,342 were determined to be valid and included in the vote count, Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said.

Barber's campaign team has indicated they are likely to challenge the rejection of some of those ballots, in a move to overcome McSally's 161-vote lead in the unofficial final vote count.

Here are the reasons those ballots were rejected, provided by Rodriguez on Wednesday:

Number of ballots Reason for rejection Notes
371 Voter went to wrong polling place
318 Ineligible voter 146 never registered, 84 previously registered (cancelled registrations), 88 registered after cutoff date
52 Voted early and attempted to vote at polls Recorder said she'll refer for investigation by county attorney
28 Unsigned ballots
4 Address outside Pima County
3 Identity unconfirmed

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