602,000 AZ ballots remain to be counted

In Pima County, huge backlog of early, provisional votes could stretch chore into next week
2012-11-08T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T11:18:22Z 602,000 AZ ballots remain to be countedBecky Pallack Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 08, 2012 12:00 am  • 

It will take days - probably well into next week - to finish counting local ballots and make results official.

About 54,541 early ballots, 26,194 provisional ballots and 600 conditional ballots were still being processed and counted Wednesday. Statewide, more than 602,000 uncounted ballots remain.

The Pima County Recorder's Office was verifying the signatures on early ballots at a pace of 1,500 an hour, said Chris Roads, chief deputy recorder and registrar of voters, meaning that task will be done in a matter of days.

But verifying provisional ballots can take up to 45 minutes each, and each must be checked twice, he said - a process that may last up to the statutory deadline of 10 days after the election, on Friday, Nov. 16.

The county staff will work 11 hours a day, including the weekend and Veterans Day holiday, to get the job done, Roads said.

The Recorder's Office handed over more than 20,000 early ballots to the elections department for counting on Wednesday, and Roads said he expects to finish verifying the early ballots today or Friday.

Never before have so many early ballots been returned on Election Day at polling places, Roads said, explaining the backlog.

Once early ballots are sent off for counting, workers must begin the task of verifying the provisional ballots. Provisional ballots are votes cast by people who were not on the voter roster, who were on the roster but also on the early-voting list, or who showed insufficient identification.

Roads estimated 80 to 90 percent of the outstanding ballots will be valid and counted.

While the county goes through these processes after every Election Day, this one is getting more attention because of the volume of ballots and because some races could come down to the last few votes.

Observers from campaigns, parties, advocacy groups and the media stopped by the Recorder's Office's south-side facility Wednesday.

County Elections Director Brad Nelson said Tuesday that a high number of provisional ballots were cast Tuesday because of problems with voter rosters at polling places.

Many voters arrived at their polling places to find their names weren't on the list.

Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said she doesn't know what caused the problem and doesn't want to speculate. Her staff will focus on signature verifications and then start looking into the roster issue, she said.

"Everybody was overwhelmed - there's no doubt," Rodriguez said.

The Recorder's Office had 27 operators on the phones Tuesday and couldn't clear the phone queue because there were so many callers, she said.

She said many voters didn't update their addresses or went to the wrong polling sites.

This isn't the first time Pima County has had problems with provisional ballots and polling-place mix-ups.

The American Civil Liberties Union named Pima County as the worst offender in disenfranchising voters in 2008 - the county invalidated 18 percent of provisional ballots because voters went to the wrong polling place in that election.

On StarNet: Get the latest numbers and news about the elections at azstarnet.com

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Provisional ballot voters

People who voted by provisional ballot on Tuesday can track their ballot online at recorder.pima.gov or by calling the phone number on the receipt they were given at the polls. Here are the stories of four voters who cast provisional ballots in Pima County Tuesday.

• Jeneiene Schaffer went to the polling place listed on the yellow card mailed to her by the Recorder's Office but was told her name wasn't on the roster. She noticed the provisional ballot box was "crammed full" and frustrating delays at the polls made her two hours late for work. She called two election watchdog hotlines to report the problems.

• Sandra Saltness Parks went to her polling place and was told by a poll worker she had requested a mail-in ballot, which she says she had not. "I am not a happy camper," she said.

• James Lombard wanted to vote early, but he did not receive an early ballot in the mail and doesn't know why, so he voted with a provisional ballot.

• Carol St. John said poll workers couldn't find her name on the roster, so she voted with a provisional ballot. But when she went back later to tell the poll workers she was upset about it, they checked the roster again and found her name, but it was too late.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@azstarnet.com or 573-4346. On Twitter @BeckyPallack.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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