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Arizona Senate race still undecided as election officials release more ballots

Election workers sort early ballots for signature verification prior to tabulation inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Election workers sort early ballots for signature verification prior to tabulation inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Vote counting centers in Arizona are working full speed ahead on the tabulation of votes to determine key statewide races. Hanging in the balance is the fate of the U.S. Senate as both Republicans and Democrats are trying to gain greater control of the chamber.

Maricopa County, which has the largest share of voters in the state, faced record breaking day-of ballot drop offs, which is contributing to the long counting process. But officials are pushing back against conspiracy theories that the process is being delayed.

Late Thursday, officials released the latest numbers showing that more than 300,000 ballots still need to be counted. In Pima County, the second largest county, more than 100,000 ballots are still outstanding.

Why delays are expected

In Arizona voters have three ways to vote: mail in, drop off and in person. And voters have the option to turn in the ballot mailed to them on election day itself.

According to election officials, state law requires all mail in and drop off ballots to be individually signature verified. Then those ballots have to go through a bipartisan processing board, which is a team of two people that check the ballot. Once that's complete, it goes into tabulation.

By the numbers, Maricopa County experienced a record number of these ballots. On Election Day itself, more than 290,000 voters dropped a ballot off at a polling location as opposed to voting in person or mailing it in. That is 100,000 more than in 2020, which held the most recent record.

These day-of drop off ballots are the majority of those that remain to be counted.

GOP criticisms continue

Both former President Donald Trump and GOP candidate for governor Kari Lake have accused Maricopa officials of delaying the process.

Arizona was the center of some of the election conspiracy theories to come out of the 2020 election that falsely claimed the election was stolen from Trump. Election deniers who echoed those claims fared well in the GOP primary elections earlier this year. All three Republican candidates at the top of the ticket spread falsehoods about 2020.

It therefore has not surprised election officials in Arizona that Lake is now accusing them of delaying or stalling the release of results.

"Quite frankly, it is offensive for Kari Lake to say that these people behind me are slow rolling this when they're working 14 to 18 hours," said Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates. "I really hope that this is the end of that now, we can be patient and respect the results when they come out."

The count must go on, even amid threats

In 2020, protesters turned out to protest at the Maricopa County vote counting center — leading officials to take extra precautions this year. Though few protesters have come by the center, Gates told reporters threats have continued for members of the elections board.

"That is now a way of life for me and my colleagues," he explained. "It shouldn't be for all the election workers and election officials across the country, but that is now a way of life."

When asked what he would say to those making threats against him and other election workers, he invoked his own family to send a message.

"I would have them just stop for a second and think about my grandpa. My grandpa was a World War II veteran who was in Europe," Gates said. "He was not fighting for their right to pick up a phone or type in a text threatening someone's life. He was fighting for the right of each and every one of us to vote and select our own leaders. So my grandpa would not be cool with that."

Officials first hoped to have up to 95% of ballots counted by Friday. With updated counts, they expect tabulation to bleed into the weekend.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.