PHOENIX - The state's chief election officer promised Friday to look into problems in counting ballots this year, while at the same time saying the system appears to be working the way it should.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett said as of midafternoon Friday there were still more than 350,000 early ballots and 172,000 provisional ballots statewide that need to be verified and counted.
While acknowledging concerns have been raised about the number of people forced to cast provisional ballots this year, he said there is no evidence that specific groups were targeted.
He said statewide, the percentage of voters who were given provisional ballots is virtually identical to what it was in 2008, the last presidential race.
However, in the state's two most populous counties, there appears to have been a significant increase in provisional ballots. Pima County saw a 24 percent increase. And in Maricopa County, about 100,000 provisional ballots were cast in 2008 compared to about 115,000 this year, with no apparent significant increase in the total number of voters.
Bennett said Arizona's provisional ballot system is designed to deal with problems that develop, whether it's people who are not on the rolls when they show up to vote, those who show up at the polls without necessary identification, or those who simply wonder whether the early ballot they just mailed will be counted. The process then requires election officials in each county to then verify, on a ballot-by-ballot basis, if the voter was eligible.
He said if history is any indication, about 70 percent of provisional ballots will eventually be verified as being from registered voters and will be counted.
But Bennett said there will be a post-election analysis.
"We go through what happens in each county, machines breaking down in one county, untrained poll workers, if there were some, in others," he said.
In some cases, Bennett said, it may be that voters just need better information.
But Bennett said, as far as he knows, everyone who wanted to vote on Election Day got to vote.
He also said there is no evidence any minority groups were singled out for special scrutiny or additional hurdles.
"Provisional ballots come in from every precinct, from every voting location," he said. And Bennett said anyone who doubts that is the case will get a chance to check for themselves.
"Eventually, all of the votes that are counted will be identified in the precincts," he said. "If somebody wants to look into whether there is a pattern of treating one group of people differently than others, all of that data will be available for the counties to evaluate and other groups to look at as well."
One thing that has changed in some counties is the increased use of "voting centers," with residents of several precincts sent to a single location.
Much of that is due to more people voting early, meaning fewer people actually going to the polls on Election Day. But Bennett said they also "present challenges that have to be worked through," like positioning them so as not to inconvenience too many voters.
And Bennett said the slow pace of counting should not be seen as a failure of the system.
"Our number one goal is not speed," he said. "Our number one goal is accuracy."
Where the remaining uncounted ballots are, as of Friday afternoon:
County Early ballots Provisional ballots
Apache 845 1,612
Cochise 12,504 1,828
Coconino 5,700 5,300
Gila 2,134 1,285
Graham 0 462
Greenlee 0 2
La Paz 395 415
Maricopa 237,359 115,000
Mohave 2,680 4,228
Navajo 3,301 2,285
Pima 54,541 26,194
Pinal 20,000 7,437
Santa Cruz 839 909
Yavapai 4,700 3,000
Yuma 7,439 2,239
Source: Secretary of State's Office