Nearly a third of votes cast in Arizona remained uncounted the day after the election. Most of them were probably cast by Latinos, organized and newly registered by multiple civil rights groups in the state to combat candidates like the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.
On Thursday, the Secretary of State, Ken Bennett, announced the figures: 631,274 early and provisional ballots remained uncounted out of a total of 1.8 million votes. At least 350,000 of them are from Maricopa County (Phoenix metropolitan area), where Joe Arpaio has already claimed victory. Activist Randy Parraz, president of Citizens for a Better Arizona, told the Huffington Post, “We’re not conceding anything until every vote is counted. They’re just going to act like, ‘Oh, the election’s over, Arpaio wins.’ Hell no.”
Three Congressional races also remain in limbo. Although Democrat Rich Carmona originally conceded the Senate seat to Jeff Flake on election night, he changed his mind after hearing the unprecedented number of uncounted votes. On Friday, he sent this message to supporters: “We will take every necessary step to make sure all of our supporters’ ballots are counted.” Two U.S. House races are also too close to call until the remainder of the votes are tallied.
Protestors from a coalition of rights groups are maintaining a continuous presence outside of the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center. In a letter to the county recorder, Helen Purcell, the American Civil Liberties wrote that the “public confidence in the voting process” was at risk.
The situation has attracted attention all across the nation. Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid weighed in, issuing a statement of his concern: “All of the votes in Arizona must be counted promptly, accurately and equally. The uncounted votes in Maricopa County alone represent a major portion of the total votes cast in Arizona on Tuesday.” He also pointed out that this problem occurs just as the Supreme Court is ready to consider whether the voter protections in 1965′s Voter Rights Act should be scaled back. Specifically, the justices are being asked to rule that the part that prevents states from disenfranchising minorities is no longer relevant.
While Secretary of State Bennett tried to attribute the record-setting proportion of uncounted ballots to redistricting, the civil rights groups smell voter suppression. After all, Maricopa County gave out incorrect voting information to Latinos before the election, Jeff Flake’s senatorial campaign spread misinformation about polling places in robocalls and, in 2008, the ACLU called Pima County (Tucson metropolitan area) tops in the country for voter suppression because officials threw out 18% of the provisional ballots cast.
So hold up on the congratulations for Arpaio, Flake, and a number of other office seekers in the state. Arizona’s got a problem. Perhaps the new Congress would like to take up election reform in order to find a solution.