There's light at the end of the tunnel, my friends. And I hope there's a beer with my name on it when we get to it.
Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett has released his latest update on the ballot count. Currently, there are 192,337 ballots left to be counted statewide, 28,550 of them early ballots, 163,787 of them provisionals.
As always, most are from vote-wealthy Maricopa County.
Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell announced today (Wednesday) that, "18,731 early ballots were tabulated and 8,489 provisional ballots (cast at the polling place on Election Day) were tabulated."
Remaining in the county are 27,000 early ballots, and around 114,000 provisional ballots, 141,000 total.
That's way down from Thursday of last week, when there were more than a half-million early and provisional ballots left to count in the county, and more than 630,000 statewide.
County elections director Karen Osborne spoke to me as she was heading into work around 6 a.m. this morning. She explained that it was unlikely the county would make its deadline by week's end for processing all remaining ballots.
"We will not hit the Friday deadline for the provisionals," she explained. "But we're using that as a goal...and we're going to work on finishing up the earlies."
That's not another reason to freak out, by the way. When I spoke with SOS Bennett last week, he told me that he could extend the Friday deadline, if certain counties needed more time.
State statute apparently gives Bennett and county officials leeway in this regard. Some people have been under the misconception that if all ballots were not processed by Friday, those remaining would not count.
"Someone asked me, `What do you do, stop counting?'" Osborne said of not meeting the deadline. "I laughed out loud. Yeah, right."
The 21-year vet of the recorder's office sounded incredibly chipper for someone leading a department that's taken so much verbal abuse over the last week.
Everyone from local activists to lefty MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has been taking a swipe at state and county elections officials, going so far as to hint at a dark conspiracy to disenfranchise minority voters.
There have been numerous complaints of lines at polling places, folks signed up for the Permanent Early Voting List, who did not receive their mail-in ballot, and those forced to vote with a provisional ballot for various reasons.
Osborne told me that in her review of the provisional ballots, she believes that the number one reason people voted provisionally was because they were signed up for PEVL, but decided to vote at a polling place for whatever reason.
When that happens, county elections requires persons to vote provisionally, to ensure that they haven't already sent in their early ballots. Thus voting twice. Which is, like, illegal or something.
Osborne also said she found provisionals being cast "in every corner of the county."
"Every single precinct [seems to have been affected]," she told me. "Not just the minority precincts."
Adios Arpaio is one of the activist groups that has been demonstrating outside the county recorder's office, demanding that "every vote be counted."
This, while every vote is being counted.
Spokeswoman Daria Ovide said that the group, which registered more than 34,000 new voters this year, has been operating a phone bank, contacting those they signed up for PEVL, to see if they received their early ballots.
Surprisingly, she told me that after making some 9,000 calls and contacting an estimated 1,000 people, Adios Arpaio had discovered "no systematic disenfranchisement" of voters.
"There are still problems," she told me. "The system is still confusing [and] there are people who did not get an early ballot, but it's not rampant."
Ovide stated that Adios Arpaio will keep the phone bank going, at least through Thursday, when the union-funded, student-staffed movement rallies at 5 p.m. at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office.
Her comments are certainly a shift from the kind of incendiary rhetoric that's been coming from some in the activist community, demanding that both Democratic sheriff's candidate Paul Penzone and U.S. Senate candidate Rich Carmona rescind their election night concessions until all votes are counted.
Interestingly, that demand has not applied to the congressional races won by Democrats, such as Congresswoman-elect Kyrsten Sinema. In that close race, her Republican opponent has conceded, though there are still ballots outstanding.
Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, the sole Democrat on the BOS, came to the defense of county elections today, praising them for their hard work at Wednesday's board meeting, according to a press release issued by the county.
"County Recorder Helen Purcell and Elections Director Karen Osborne have had a very hard job with so many provisional ballots this year," Wilcox said. "They have done an outstanding job, hiring more people.''
The supervisor also expressed sympathy for those whose patience has been taxed by the system.
"People always have concerns about having their votes counted," she stated in the release. "Everyone must be assured that their votes count and will be counted no matter how long it takes."
One other reason for confusion at the polls could be the reduction of polling places from 1,100 to 700 this year, a cost-cutting measure, due in part to an anticipated increase in early voting.
Certain commentators have insinuated that this 400-polling place cut might have been done with ill intent.
But such conspiracy-theorizing misses a crucial point: Arizona is still covered under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
That means any change dealing with the elections process in this state, no matter how small, has to be precleared by the U.S. Department of Justice, such as redistricing and poll consolidation, both of which happened in 2011.
The DOJ precleared both county plans, as is indicated in an April 3, letter from DOJ Voting Section Chief T. Christian Herren to the county's Federal Compliance Officer Tammy Patrick.
Federal observers were reportedly in Maricopa County to monitor the election this year. Representatives from both the county Democratic and Republican Parties served as poll watchers, and have been observing the vote count as it takes place.
Without discounting the difficulties some may have faced in this election, a combination of suspicion, misinformation, human error, and lack of communication has led to a proliferation of myths, urban legends, and partial truths.
This has been most unfortunate and unnecessary and has clouded the good judgment of some.
We need more clarity, more good information, not less. Relying on suppositions and assumptions ultimately is a dead end, and obscures the actual goal we must strive for: Making it easier for qualified electors to vote, not harder.
There are some obstacles in that path, mostly from recalled, former state Senate President Russell Pearce's Prop 200, requiring ID at the polls, a genuine vote-suppressor if there ever was one.
But that's separate, I think, from what happened in this election cycle. Neither Karen Osborne nor Helen Purcell nor even Ken Bennett (his one-time toe-dip into birtherism aside) are Russell Pearce.
So let's stop treating them like Russell Pearce, okay?
Here endeth the sermon. Now for updates.
Arpaio is 86,801 votes ahead of Penzone, or 7.07 percent.
ARPAIO 629643 51.27 PENZONE, 542842 44.2 STAUFFER 55529 4.52
Flake is 81,669 votes ahead of Carmona, or 3.89 percent.
CARMONA 959,152 45.77 FLAKE 1,040,821 49.66
Barber is ahead of McSally by 943 votes or 0.34 percent.
MCSALLY 137,831 49.74 BARBER 138,774 50.08
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