Maricopa County has about 275K ballots left to count; hand count starts Saturday
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) -- Another vote drop in Maricopa County happened on Friday night, and while the GOP hoped it would skew their way heavily, it ended up clinching the projected wins for Democrats Sen. Mark Kelly, Rep. Greg Stanton and Adrian Fontes. One Republican winner was called on Friday evening, with Kimberly Yee winning the re-election bid for state treasurer over Democrat Martin Quezada.
About 74,000 ballots were dropped around 8 p.m. During a news conference, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates said most of the votes for the nighttime drop were early ballots on Election Day. Some included the remaining early ballots dropped off before Election Day. Also, part of the drop were some of the 17,000 ballots that tabulation machines had problems reading on Election Day due to printer issues. Those ballots were put in a secure box known as Box No. 3. The state now has less than 400,000 votes that still need to be tabulated, with about 275,000 of those in Maricopa County.
Gates also announced that the hand count audit will start on Saturday. “The hand count audit is mandated by law,” Gates said. Five thousand votes from five voting centers will be part of the hand count. The voting centers were chosen randomly, but all are from the West Valley. It’s not a hand count of all the races, though, so the audit will only look at the voters for governor, state representative, Prop. 129 and U.S. Congress. “This is a very important part of the process,” Gates said. “This hand count audit allows us to ensure that the machines are operating correctly.” Three-person boards, with representatives from both parties, will be counting the ballots. Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer didn’t speak during Friday’s news conference.
The mail-in ballots returned on Election Day have swung wildly in recent election cycles, from strongly Democratic in the 2018 midterms to strongly Republican in 2020. The races will depend on whether those late-counted ballots look more like 2018 or 2020. Maricopa County officials had hoped that 95% of the ballots would be counted by Friday, but that won’t happen until sometime next week. The record number of ballots dropped off on Election Day is slowing things down. That’s because every one of those ballots needs to be signature verified before they can be tabulated, which takes time. However, Maricopa County officials emphasized that this year’s process was no different than previous years.
“This is how things work in Arizona and have for decades,” said Gates during Thursday’s press conference. He said staff are working 14 to 18 hours a day and will continue through the weekend. “We are doing what we can and still maintaining accuracy,” Gates said. Protracted vote counts have been a staple of elections in Arizona for years, where the overwhelming majority of people vote with mail ballots, and many wait until the last minute to return them. But as Arizona has morphed from a GOP stronghold to a competitive battleground, the delays have increasingly become a source of national anxiety for partisans on both sides.
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