Suddenly, we’re the Florida of elections which is never a good thing when it comes to tallying votes.
No hanging chads here but a fair number of hanging questions as the counting continues -- eight days after the election -- and suspicion swirls in some corners that certain Arizonans were deprived of their vote.
As of Tuesday evening, an astonishing 324,000 votes still had not been tallied, well over half of them provisional ballots that must be verified before they count.
MSNBC called it Arizona’s “broken-on-purpose election” – one that Rachel Maddow flatly charged is deliberately aimed at disenfrancising new Latino voters. The Santa Fe New Mexican called it “an election travesty next door.” Even U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid weighed in over the weekend, urging Arizona to count the votes “promptly, accurately and equally.”
In Arizona, Latino protesters stormed a county elections office last week and now are holding vigil in downtown Phoenix.
“There’s too many problems in this election,” Maria Uride told me, as she sat at the corner of Third Avenue and Jefferson on Tuesday morning. “I think maybe the people will say, ‘I don’t want to vote anymore. My vote is not respected.’ Once the people say that, it’s good for the other side.”
Actually, it’s bad for all sides when confidence in this fundamental right – your right to vote – is eroded.
Thus far, however, there is no hard evidence that Latino voters were disproportionately affected by problems at the polls last week. Then again, there are also no hard numbers for how many people actually voted which is not only troubling, it’s embarrassing. (Late Tuesday, Secretary of State spokesman Matt Roberts estimated we'll be just shy of 2.2 million votes cast.)
Maricopa County elections officials say it’s standard for the vote counting to take 10 days. They attribute this year’s 20 percent rise in provisional ballots – those that must be verified before they count – to people who received early ballots but showed up at the polls to vote.
Tammy Patrick, federal compliance officer with the county’s Elections Office, says provisional ballots were distributed across the county, not just to Latino voters. Of the 121,000 provisional ballots cast in Maricopa County, 60,000 were given to people who came to the polls despite being on the permanent early voting list. The second largest group of provisional ballots went to people who had moved but didn’t update their voter registration.
Thus far, Patrick says 42,000 of those 121,000 provisional ballots have been processed, with 81 percent verified and counted.
Meanwhile, the number of outstanding conditional provisional ballots – the ones that require voters to return to election HQ with proper identification – is actually down from 2008, Patrick says.
In Maricopa County, 1,011 voters must return by 5 p.m. today with proper identification if they want their ballots counted. That is down from 1,811 that were tossed out in 2008.
Suspicions remain, however, that Latinos were hit hardest with provisional ballots.
“My gut tells me that it disproportionately impacted first-time voters of which many or probably the majority are Latino voters,” said Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network.
Wercinski says he spent hours at a poll near ASU and witnessed a stream of students turned away because they couldn’t produce utility bills or other identification with their address that would satisfy Arizona law.
Neither Wercinski nor several Democrats I talked to are buying this idea that there was some nefarious plot to suppress Latino votes. They do, however, question how many of those votes were lost to bad information, early ballots that never arrived and other electoral snafus.
“I don’t think any person was sitting in a dark room trying to figure out how to disenfranchise voters,” Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said. “But I think the result of incompetence has created that situation.”
Whatever the reason, it’s clear that the long running spectacle that is Election Night 2012 bears a closer look.
On Friday, House Majority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, sent letters to Gov. Jan Brewer, Secretary of State Ken Bennett and other legislative leaders, calling for a non-partisan investigation into how the votes were tallied this year.
“I’ve heard countless stories … of very odd experiences,” Campbell told me. “There are some irregularities that concern me. My bottom line: if the system is actually working the way it’s supposed to, if there’s nothing that went wrong, then we probably need to look at redesigning the system.”
I imagine Ron Barber and Martha McSally, still waiting to find out who’s headed to Congress, would agree.