At least four area legislative races, two ballot propositions and a U.S. House seat hang in the balance — and may stay that way for at least a week — as more than 250,000 Maricopa County votes have yet to be counted.
The vast majority of outstanding ballots are from early voters who either mailed their choices in the past few days or dropped their ballots off at polling places on Election Day.
Most of the rest — about 37,000 — are “provisional ballots” cast by people at the wrong polling place or whose name or address didn’t match the voter rolls.
And roughly 1,300 are “conditional provisional ballots” that ran afoul of the new law requiring voter identification.
County election officials estimated that only a few hundred of these ballots ultimately would be counted because it requires voters to return to one of about 20 offices countywide and present the proper ID. Most people who didn’t have the right ID returned with it to their polling place on Election Day, officials said.
Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell said about 25,000 ballots will be processed each day, working through the Veterans Day holiday and the weekend, and new vote counts issued about 5 p.m. No new tallies were released Wednesday.
This is standard procedure thanks to early balloting, she said, though the numbers appear to be significantly higher in this election.
“We always have ballots left to be counted,” Purcell said Wednesday. “This is a common occurrence.”
In the last midterm election in 2002, more than 172,000 votes were counted in the days after the election. Democrat Janet Napolitano led GOP challenger Matt Salmon by just 11,000 votes after the polls closed, and it took days before a clear winner emerged.
This year, it’s U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth and former Tempe Mayor Harry Mitchell hanging fire for the next few days. Mitchell led by about 6,000 votes Tuesday night.
Other undecided races include three Phoenix-area House districts and District 21, which includes Chandler, Sun Lakes and Queen Creek, where Rep. Warde Nichols trails Democratic challenger Phil Hettmansperger by just eight votes.
A constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and a measure to conserve state land were losing, but by slim margins that could be erased with the uncounted votes.
All politicians and activists can do is sit and wait.
“Eight votes obviously is not cause for a victory speech or a concession speech,” said state Republican Party spokesman Garrett Taylor.
“The party and the candidates, we’re in real limbo right now,” he said, “There’s a lot riding on this.”
Purcell said the lengthy ballot may have caused some voters who requested early ballots to procrastinate. The Democratic and Republican parties pushed hard for people to vote early, and about 478,000 mailin ballots were requested.
About 66,000 county voters turned their ballots in at polling places Tuesday, and thousands more ballots arrived in the mail. None of those could be counted until at least today.
With 95 questions, plus municipal issues, the ballot may have been the longest ever and took two pages to complete. The county’s eight machines, humming from about 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., can process up to 50,000 vote cards, or 25,000 ballots, a day.
Statewide, an estimated 350,000 ballots were still being counted, although most counties had not yet reported their numbers to the Secretary of State’s Office, said state elections director Joe Kanefield.
“We go through the exercise every election,” Kanefield said. “Everybody wants all the ballots to be counted that night. It’s never that way.”
If past trends are any indication, about 80 percent of the provisional ballots will be validated.
There’s no way to determine where the 258,000 county votes come from among the 1,142 polling places, Purcell said, or at least no one’s got the time to figure it out.