Elections officials: 500,000 ballots still out, but vote count on track

After running through a vote-counting machine, an election worker gathers ballots at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center on Thursday, when more than 600,000 statewide still needed to be counted. (Photo by Drake Presto/Cronkite News)

An elections worker runs ballots through vote-counting machines at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center on Thursday. Counting is expected to continue in Arizona for several days. (Photo by Drake Presto/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Arizona election officials said Thursday there were still more than 500,000 ballots to be counted from Tuesday’s elections, but they insisted they are still on schedule to complete the count.

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 late Thursday afternoon, the secretary of state’s office said there were 573,533 uncounted ballots, compared more than to 1.97 million that had been tallied.

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.

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“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.

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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.”

Haley Smilow HAIL-ee SMI-low (she/her/hers)
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Haley Smilow expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Smilow, who is currently covering sports in Phoenix, is also interning with the Diamondbacks and has previously interned at the Phoenix Magazine, AZTV and Phoenix Rising.

Drake Presto drake PRESS-toh (he/him)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Drake Presto will graduate in spring 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Presto specializes in documentary journalism and has interned with The Arizona Republic, Arizona Highways Magazine and The State Press.