Lily Canedo, center, and others took petitions bearing 20,000 signatures on Friday to the county recorder’s office in Phoenix to protest uncounted votes. Joshua Lott for The New York Times
By FERNANDA SANTOS
Published: November 9, 2012
PHOENIX — Three days after the election, the outcome of several races remained a mystery in Arizona as officials struggle to count a record number of early and provisional ballots, many of them cast by voters who believed they had registered but whose names were not on the voter rolls at the polling place.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Ken Bennett revealed the magnitude of the situation: 631,274 votes remained uncounted, he said, more than in any presidential election in memory and enough to anger voting- and immigrant-rights advocates, who have called on the Justice Department to investigate. (By Friday, there were 524,633 uncounted ballots. There are 3.1 million registered voters in the state.)
The advocates, who have been staging nearly continuous protests outside the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center, where most of the votes are being tallied, have raised accusations of disenfranchisement, saying the same Latino voters they worked so diligently to register may have been disproportionately affected. Based on accounts they have been collecting since before the polls closed, among the 115,000 voters who cast provisional ballots in Maricopa County on Tuesday were many first-time minority voters who signed up to get their ballots by mail, but never did.
“We’re concerned that some of the barriers we’re seeing fell heavily on Latino and African-American voters,” said Monica Sandschafer, acting coordinator for One Arizona, a coalition of nonprofit groups working to increase voter participation among working families.
Volunteers took to the phones on Friday at the offices of Unite Here, which represents hospitality workers, calling Latinos on the early-voting registry to find out if they got their ballots in time to vote by mail. Meanwhile, the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter to the county recorder, Helen Purcell, saying the “public confidence in the voting process” was at stake.
The uncertainty has also unsettled candidates and campaign staffs, prompting at least one of them — Mark Napier, the Republican candidate for sheriff in Pima County, which had 80,735 uncounted votes on Wednesday — to rescind his concession.
“I was down by 7,400 votes on election night,” Mr. Napier said. “I assumed it was over, but this election could change.”
Three Congressional races remained too close to call on Friday, and there were also some misgivings about the outcome of several other races. One of them was the United States Senate race, where, as of Friday, Jeff Flake, a Republican congressman, was ahead of his Democratic challenger, Richard H. Carmona, by 78,775 votes, according to unofficial results posted by the secretary of state.
Mr. Carmona conceded on Tuesday; on Friday, in a message to supporters, he wrote, “We will take every necessary step to make sure all of our supporters’ ballots are counted.”
Activists say that they believe, based on what they have heard from people in the field, that provisional ballots tended to be used most often in Hispanic and black neighborhoods. But that cannot be verified until all the ballots are counted, and officials in each of Arizona’s 15 counties have until next Friday to do that.
Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Mr. Bennett, said that all valid votes would be counted. Advocates and elected officials are worried, though, that voters who had to cast conditional provisional ballots because they forgot to bring identification to the polls, as state law requires, may not know they have to present their ID at the county elections office by Wednesday for their vote to count.
“You should do it not just for the Democrats or the Republicans, or for the Hispanic voters and the black voters. You should do it because it’s the right thing to do,” State Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat, said at a protest on Friday.
Deborah Curtis, a poll observer at Xavier College Preparatory in Central Phoenix attending the same protest, said she saw a black voter being told she could drop off her early ballot only in her neighborhood precinct, although early ballots can be left at any polling place.
“I wondered how many other people were told the same thing,” Ms. Curtis said.
On Thursday night, more than a hundred people — activists, high school students who are too young to vote but worked for months to register voters, and voters who said they were forced to use provisional ballots at the polls — joined hands in a human chain and prayed outside the election center, a squat brick building on a desolate stretch of downtown, next to the train tracks and across the street from a jail.
Friday morning, they marched five blocks along Third Avenue to the county recorder’s office, where they delivered a petition with at least 20,000 signatures, demanding answers. Outside, on small pieces of paper, they left messages taped to a wooden board. One of them read, “We have rights.” Another read, “Justice.”