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Updated Nov 9, 2012 - 6:55 am

Uncounted ballots frustrating Arizona voting groups

A sample ballot hangs outside the polling precinct Tuesday at Peralta Elementary school in west Phoenix. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Natasha Khan)

PHOENIX -- People who said they registered for an early ballot but never received one. People confused about the identification needed to vote. People told they weren't on a precinct's voting list.

Arizona advocacy groups, political parties and politicians said those are just some of the things that led to what they characterized as a large number of provisional ballots cast Tuesday.

"All of this added up together was that a lot of people that felt frustrated," said Joaquin Rios, research director and election protection coordinator for the Arizona Democratic Party.

The Arizona Secretary of State's Office announced that as of Thursday there were 631,274 ballots yet to be counted, of which 172,196 were provisionals and the rest were early ballots.

Maricopa County reported 300,000 early ballots and 115,000 provisional ballots remaining, while Pima County reported 54,541 early ballots and 26,194 provisionals remaining.

Matt Roberts, spokesman for the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, said the number of provisionals wasn't abnormally high in Maricopa County considering provisionals were around 100,000 in 2008.

"They are consistent with what we expected it to be," he said.

An American Civil Liberties Union report analyzing provisional ballots cast in 2008 reported that Maricopa County had 99,826 and Pima County 17,192 that year.

Coconino County Recorder Candy Owens said the 5,300 provisional ballots in her county hasn't increased significantly since 2008, when there were 5,000.

"It is pretty typical," she said.

State law gives counties 10 days to process and count early and provisional ballots.

Races too close to call in Arizona's 2nd and 9th congressional districts will be decided by votes cast by the provisional and early ballots.

Rios said the Arizona Democratic Party received reports of polling places with long lines for provisional ballots mainly because of people who registered for an early ballot but never received one.

"It is unfortunate," Rios said. "There is a lot of confusion out there."

Rios said he's not blaming the Maricopa County Recorder's Office, adding that he's confident the office is staffed with professionals who will get the ballots counted.

"Provisionals could very well make the difference in some of these close races," he said.

Frustration was apparent Wednesday when about 100 mostly Latino voters, volunteers from various activist groups and politicians and rallied outside the Maricopa County's tabulation center demanding to know how many ballots remained uncounted while the news media and candidates were declaring victory and moving on.

"If there are still over 400,000 ballots, there is no way a race should be conceded or called just yet," said Tomas Robles, an organizer with Promise Arizona in Action, a group that worked to registered nearly 35,000 Latinos to vote this year.

Protesters holding signs that read "MY RIGHTS ARE NOT PROVISIONAL" while chanting "Count our votes, count our votes!"

"We are going to make sure those votes are counted," said Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski, who said he wants to see more transparency from the Maricopa County Recorder's Office, especially after it sent out Spanish-language pamphlets to heavily Hispanic neighborhoods listing the wrong date for the election.

"I mean, come on," he said.

The Recorder's Office announced that 44,455 early ballots were tabulated by late Wednesday.

"We are aware that there is a large interest in the final outcome of some races," Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell said in a news release. "However, our office cannot sacrifice accuracy for speed."

Yvonne Reed, spokeswoman for the recorder's office, said the office has 200 people working "tirelessly" to process ballots from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Provisional ballots are given to voters who don't show up on precinct rosters or are marked as having been sent early ballots. They are sealed and placed in plastic containers where they head to elections offices to be processed and counted.

"Conditional provisional" ballots are cast by voters who doesn't provide the right identification. Those voters have until the end of the day Wednesday, Nov. 14, go to their county's elections office and offer the necessary ID.

Signatures on the ballots have to be verified by hand.

First-time voter Claudette Arvizu, 19, who attended Wednesday's rally, said she waited in line for hours to cast a provisional ballot after a poll worker told her she was sent an early ballot.

"I never got it," Arvizu said.

Arvizu said she felt her vote wasn't important when she saw poll workers place her ballot into a plastic box instead of running it through a machine.

"I felt like my vote was worth nothing," Arvizu said.

Roberts, of Arizona Secretary of State's office, said provisional ballots exist to ensure a voter gets to cast a ballot and to safeguard against people voting twice.

Carol Cox, chairman of Pima County's Republican Party, said voters across her county were forced to cast provisional ballots because the Pima County Recorder's Office bungled voting rosters and many voters who should have been on voting lists at particular precincts didn't show up on the lists.

"We basically had a total failure on the part of the Pima County Recorder's office," Cox said.

Pima County Recorder Ann Rodriguez said the main problem was voters who didn't update their addresses and then showed up at the wrong polling sites. She said in that situation it's protocol to ask a voter to cast a provisional ballot.

"If we could work on some of these voters updating their addresses, we wouldn't have a lot of these issues," Rodriguez said.

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