Challenger Paul Babeu leads incumbent Pinal County Sheriff Chris Vasquez with 100 percent of county precincts reporting Wednesday. Babeu led by eight percentage points, according to numbers from the Pinal County Elections Web site.
The initial count excludes early and provisional ballots.
As the current Pinal County sheriff, Vasquez, a Democrat, touts over 30 years of law enforcement experience, including three years in the position after he was appointed in 2005. He was re-elected in 2006. Babeu, a Republican, raised more money during the campaign, but has less direct law enforcement experience than Vasquez. He spent six years as a Chandler officer and served in the National Guard.
“I feel very humbled and grateful,” Babeu said of the early results. “There’s so much work to be done.”
Babeu says the sheriff’s office does not have the modern upgrades the county needs, such as computers in police vehicles, new safety equipment and updated medical training. Vasquez argues that these issues have either been under control or on their way to completion.
On Tuesday afternoon, Babeu spent most of his time at a polling place in Saddlebrook, near Tucson. He spent the evening at San Tan Flat celebrating with family and supporters, he said.
Vasquez and his supporters dined at LB Inn and Restaurant in Florence to watch the results, he said.
“I’m still optimistic that we will pull up,” Vasquez said after the initial numbers, adding that he thought many important votes were still to be counted.
There are about 1,500 more Democrats registered in the county than Republicans, according to data on the Pinal County recorders Web site.
By Oct. 24, Pinal County had 52,141 registered Democrats and 50,358 Republicans, while 43,855 residents fell under “other,” the Web site shows.
Polling places were busy by early morning, but election department employees were prepared for a “rush” of late voters, according to Gilbert Hoyos, director of the department.
Pinal County has about 90 polling stations and most locations experienced long lines, Hoyos said.
“We’re just making sure everybody is accommodated,” Hoyos said earlier Tuesday.
One voter complained about being intimidated at a Casa Grande polling station in the early morning because advocacy groups were campaigning within 75 feet of the station, he said.