JONATHAN J. COOPER
PHOENIX (AP) – Democrats took their narrow lead in key Arizona racing on Thursday, but the US Senate and Governor races were still too early to call as there were about a fifth of the total vote left to count.
Democratic Senator Mark Kelly led the Republican Blake Masters by 5.6 percentage points, while Democrat Katie Hobbs had a much smaller 1.4 point lead over Republican Kari Lake in the governor’s race. Democrats also led the races for the secretary of state and the attorney general.
Election officials in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix Metro and over 60% of voters, are expected to begin reporting on Friday the results of a key group of ballot papers – nearly 300,000 ballots that were returned on election day. This group has changed rapidly in recent election cycles, from overwhelmingly democratic mid-term in 2018 to overwhelmingly Republican in 2020.
The races will depend on whether those late-time ballots look more like 2018 or 2020.
The answer will decide who wins the extremely fierce races for the US Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the governor, secretary of state, and attorney general. At stake is Congressional control and the rules of the 2024 presidential election in a crucial state of the battlefield.
In the House of Democrats, Tom O’Halleran lost a race to Republican Eli Crane, a businessman and former Navy SEAL for three terms on Thursday, after his rural district was redesigned to become much more conservative. The Democrats hoped O’Halleran’s long history in the area and his past as a retired cop would help him survive.
The lies of former President Donald Trump about the 2020 election changed voting patterns across the country and especially in Arizona, which played a major role in conspiracy theories suggesting the result was tainted. This makes it even more complicated for news organizations to announce the winners as historical data is not necessarily applicable.
It may take several days before it is clear who won some of the more recent competitions, as was the case in the 2018 and 2020 elections. About 500,000 votes were left unaccounted, most of them in the Phoenix and Tucson subways.
Maricopa County officials stressed that this year’s trial was no different from previous years.
“That’s how it works in Arizona, and it has been for decades,” said Bill Gates, Republican chairman of the county board. That said, the staff work 14 to 18 hours a day and will continue to work over the weekend.
“We’re doing our best and still being accurate,” said Gates.
The protracted counting of votes has been a staple of elections in Arizona for years, where the overwhelming majority of people vote by mail and many wait until the last minute to cast them off. But as Arizona transformed from a Republican stronghold to a competitive battleground, delays increasingly became a source of national concern for guerrillas on both sides.
Processing ballots by mail is time-consuming as officials need to check that voters have not voted in person and that the signatures on their ballots match those on the file. Maricopa County officials said they had received a record number of ballots returned on election day.
While the Republicans are still on the hunt, it has not been clear whether a stronger-than-expected Democratic show across much of the United States would extend to Arizona.
Republicans were eager to get more results, believing the remaining ballots were definitely in favor of them.
The GOP nominated a list of candidates who won Trump’s support after they falsely claimed his loss to President Joe Biden was tainted. Lake claimed Thursday morning that Maricopa County officials are “slowly” releasing the results to make it appear as if the Democrats are doing better than they really are.
“We’re going to win it, and they can’t help it, but they’re trying to flood the movement with cold water,” Lake told conservative radio broadcasters Charlie Kirk. “This movement is on fire and no amount of water can put out this fire. We humans are taking our row back. ‘
Gates dismissed Lake’s accusations of intentionally slow counting and said the ballots were counted in the order they were received.
“We’re absolutely not moving slowly,” he said. “And if their team paid attention before the election, they would hear us talking about it over and over again, that we won’t have results on election night, that it would take a few days.”
Lake has pledged to convene lawmakers immediately to a special post-swearing session to make massive changes to Arizona’s electoral law. He wants to significantly reduce early and postal voting, the options chosen by at least 8 out of 10 voters in Arizona, and manually count all ballots, which election administrators believe would be extremely time consuming.
Maricopa County officials said they were able to count the 17,000 votes cast in person on election day, which were affected by the unfortunate printout. A printer problem at 70 of 223 polling stations prevented counters on the spot from reading these ballots, slowing voting in some locations and infuriating Republicans who were counting on high turnout on election day.
Republicans who control a three-member board of directors in southeastern Arizona, Cochise County, which is ruled by a large Republican power, cited the problem in Maricopa County, urging the state’s Supreme Court to manually count all votes cast in the elections. They are appealing a decision that prevented them from going beyond the traditional hand-counting of a small sample of ballot papers to test the accuracy of tab machines.
Picks and technology experts note that machines are tested, certified and retested and are not only faster but also much more accurate than manual counting, which can be prone to error.
Associated Press authors Bob Christie and Terry Tang contributed to this report.
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