522,000 ballots still uncounted in Arizona
PHOENIX — The state's chief election officer promised Friday to look into problems in counting ballots this year but said it appears the system is working the way it should.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett acknowledged that as of Friday there were more than 350,000 early ballots statewide that had yet to be counted. On top of that there were another 172,000-plus provisional ballots that needed to be reviewed to determine if they, too, should be counted.
But Bennett said all the concerns raised about the number of people who were forced to cast provisional ballots this year is misplaced. And he said there is no evidence that specific groups were targeted.
He said the percentage of the approximately 1.8 million voters who were given provisional ballots is virtually identical to what it was in 2008, the last presidential race.
More to the point, he 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 verify, on a ballot-by-ballot basis, if the person was eligible.
He said if history is any indication, about 70 percent of those provisional ballots will eventually be verified to be from registered voters and their results counted.
But Bennett said there will be a post-mortem 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. For example, he said, it may be there needs to be a bold notice on the outside of the return envelopes of early ballots that it would be best to return them several days earlier.
That, however, is not a legal requirement. In fact, those who received early ballots can turn them in on Election Day at any polling place.
About 400,000 Arizonans did just that. And Bennett said sorting them out slows up the entire process.
That still leaves the question of all those forced to cast provisional ballots, even with Bennett saying there has been no net increase.
He said there are legitimate reasons that some who show up on Election Day are not on the registered voter list. One big one, Bennett said, are those who register to vote less than 29 days before the election, the legal cutoff.
There were other problems.
Bennett said Yuma and Yavapai counties tried an experiment where anyone could show up at any polling place. Election workers would then determine where they live and print out a ballot for that specific voting precinct on site.
“Some of those machines had troubles,'' Bennett said.
“If they broke down, some of the lines got a little longer than Yuma County or us would like to see,'' he continued. “And those are the kinds of things we'll review in the next few weeks, after all the work is done to count the ballots.''
And Bennett said that the slow pace of counting should not be seen as a failure of the system.
“Our No. 1 goal is not speed,'' he said. “Our No. 1 goal is accuracy.''