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Did Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio Really Win?

Several hundred thousand votes remain uncounted.
 
 
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Did Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio—the face of Arizona’s anti-immigrant movement—really win a sixth term of office on Tuesday?

That is one question that Latino organizers are asking Wednesday after receiving reports that perhaps as many as 300,000 ballots remain uncounted in Maricopa County, with what they say are a sizeable proportion coming from non-white voters who unexpectedly were given provisional ballots after their names were not on polling place voter lists.

“These are folks that were registered to vote. They showed up. Many of them were not found in their voter rolls. And it’s disproportionately among Latinos,” said Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente Action. “Those votes must be counted. It’s not only the right thing to do. It would set a horrible precedent for the future of Arizona to disregard hundreds of thousands of Latino voters. It calls for national attention.”

Carmona was most concerned about voters in Maricopa County, the state’s largest, and Yuma County. In the Maricopa sheriff’s race, the media called Arpaio the winner in a three-way race with 82 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday’s polling place returns.

According to Maricopa County officials Arpaio had 469,407 votes or 53 percent of the vote as of 1 A.M. Wednesday morning when the Election Day ballot counting stopped, compared to his closest challenger, Democrat Paul Penzone, who had 381,284 votes or 43 percent. According to AzCentral.com, Penzone conceded defeat at about 10 P.M. on Tuesday night before a crowd of supporters.

However, that concession is not being accepted as the last word on who legally won by Latino organizers, who say that until all the votes are counted there is still a chance to beat Arpaio.

“We’re not conceding anything until every vote is counted,” Randy Parraz, head of Citizens for a Better Arizona, told the Huffington Post. “They’re just going to act like, ‘Oh, the election’s over. Arpaio wins.’ Hell no!”

There are reasons for Latino organizers to distrust Maricopa County election officials. Before the election, the county sent out notices to voters with the Spanish language version not having the correct day of the election—it said Wednesday while the English language version said Tuesday. County officials said that was an error and subsequently sent out additional correct notices.

On Tuesday, Maricopa County was one of 51 jurisdictions in 23 states where the federal Justice Department sent election monitors.

On Wednesday, state and Maricopa County election officials reached by AlterNet said there were many reasons why the county had so many uncounted ballots, which did not only include provisional ballots but also mail-in ballots that were dropped off at polling places on Tuesday and overseas ballots.

Yvonne Reed, a spokeswoman for the office, said the county was trying to determine how many mail-in and provisional ballots needed to be counted, saying that combined figure could be several hundred thousand. She said the county hoped to have that figure by later this week.

“We have to process all those ballots,” Reed said. “You don’t just throw them in a machine and say they count.”

Matthew Roberts, spokesman for the Arizona Secretary of State, said it was possible that there were several hundred thousand uncounted ballots in Maricopa County. The mail-in ballots get counted first and then provisional ballots, he said, because many people who were on lists to vote by absentee ballots may have decided to just vote at a polling place—which lead poll workers to give them a provisional ballot. This ballot counting order prevents votes from being counted twice.

There were other reasons that provisional ballots could have been issued, Rpberts said. A voter who did not register to vote would get one, which would not be counted. A person who did not have the right ID with them would get one, but that would count once their identity was verified. A person was registered to vote but recently moved would get one, and that too would likely count. A person who had not voted in four years—which would result in them being moved from the 'active' voter to 'inactive' voter file—would get one, but that too would count. And someone on a vote-by-mail list for 2012 who showed up at a polling place would also receive one. If they hadn't voted by mail, their polling place vote would count.

“I think they’re misinterpreting some of that,” Roberts said, referring to Carmona’s 300,000-ballot figure and the various categories of voters. “I think they are lumping in all the early [mailed-in], provisional, overseas and ballots delivered at polling places.”

It was not unusual for a presidential election year to have 100,000 provisional ballots in Maricopa County, he said.

The bottom line is the official results in the Maricopa Sheriff’s race may not be known for two weeks, other election officials said. For Penzone to emerge with more votes that Arpaio, it appears that the Democrat would need more than two out of every three of the estimated uncounted votes.

The Arizona Secretary of State annouces the final and official winners on Dec. 3.

 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).