Republicans are falsely claiming that Arizona used to know final election results on Election Day

What’s changed? Arizona isn’t solidly red any more, so high-profile races are closer and people are paying attention more to vote counting

By: - November 15, 2022 4:46 am

(Graph courtesy Maricopa County via Arizona Mirror)

Republicans in Arizona and elsewhere have insisted that the days-long tabulation of early ballots, particularly in Maricopa County, is a new phenomenon that is aimed at undercutting faith in the elections and harming GOP candidates.

They’re flat wrong about the history, however: Final election results have never been available on Election Night in any Arizona county.

What’s changed isn’t that late-arriving early ballots are counted after election day, but that Arizona has gone from a ruby red state where Republicans dominated the vast majority of election contests — typically on the strength of early ballot returns — to a deep purple state where races up and down the ballot are close.

Those close races mean candidates, voters, pundits and the national media are focusing intently on Arizona’s post-Election Day tallies.

Nov. 7, 2000 presidential election
Final results: Nov. 20
Lag time: 13 days
Ballots cast: 914,952

Nov. 5, 2002 midterm election
Final results: Nov. 11
Lag time: 6 days
Ballots cast: 723,867

Nov. 2, 2004 presidential election
Final results: Nov. 15
Lag time: 13 days
Ballots cast: 1,211,963

Nov. 7, 2006 midterm election
Final results: Nov. 19
Lag time: 12 days
Ballots cast: 899,484

Nov. 4, 2008 presidential election
Final results: Nov. 21
Lag time: 17 days
Ballots cast: 1,380,571

Nov. 2, 2010 midterm election
Final results: Nov. 17
Lag time: 15 days
Ballots cast: 1,004,125

Nov. 6, 2012 presidential election
Final results: Nov. 20
Lag time: 14 days
Ballots cast: 1,390,836

Nov. 4, 2014 midterm election
Final results: Nov. 18
Lag time: 14 days
Ballots cast: 877,187

Nov. 8, 2016 presidential election
Final results: Nov. 18
Lag time: 10 days
Ballots cast: 1,608,875

Nov. 6, 2018 midterm election
Final results: Nov. 20
Lag time: 14 days
Ballots cast: 1,454,103

Nov. 3, 2020 presidential election
Final results: Nov. 13
Lag time: 10 days
Ballots cast: 2,089,563

None of that has stopped Arizona GOP candidates and their allies across the country from crying foul about the process that has existed in the Grand Canyon State since the early 1990s, when Republicans here pioneered no-excuse early mail-in voting and crafted state laws to ensure only legal early ballots are counted and maximize accessibility for Arizona voters.

Kari Lake, the GOP nominee for governor, insisted on Election Day that Arizonans knew the results of their elections on Election Night until Maricopa County began using voting centers exclusively in 2020. The voting centers model allows registered voters to show up at any polling location instead of being limited to casting a ballot only at their assigned precinct voting site.

Records from Maricopa County elections over the past 22 years show that has never been the case. Media outlets, like the Associated Press, might have called races in the past when election night returns showed that one candidate was blowing out another, but the fastest the county has released final results in a midterm election since 2000 was six days, in 2002.

And that election had far fewer ballots cast than this year, with only 723,867 voters participating in the election. This year’s count is expected to be more than 1.5 million.

After Maricopa County’s latest vote drop Sunday evening, Lake was still behind her Democratic opponent Katie Hobbs, with Hobbs at 50.5% of the vote and Lake at 49.5%, with around 26,000 votes separating the two. Lake has said she’s still confident she is going to win, but has continually questioned the accuracy and competency of elections in Arizona and promised to call a special session of the state legislature to make changes to the process as soon as she is elected.

Maricopa County added around 98,600 ballots to its count Sunday evening, most of which were early ballots dropped off at polling places on Election Day. The county estimated that around 94% of ballots had been counted as of Sunday, with around 94,000 ballots left to be counted.

Elections workers have until Wednesday to contact voters and fix issues found with around 8,000 early ballots.

“I know people are very anxious to get the results, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary here,” Republican Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates told reporters Friday.

He added that the county simply follows state election law, and if people think that the laws should be changed, they should speak to their state legislators.

Gates also expressed frustration that some national news networks were spreading misinformation about elections in Maricopa County.

“Yeah, I’m going to stand up for my state,” he said. “Maybe not everyone here is, but I am. We’re not doing anything wrong at all.”

The only time since 2000 that Maricopa County released its final election results the day after a November election was in 2017, during a small local election conducted only by mail.

In that Nov. 7, 2017, election, only 245,951 ballots were cast in a local election that included mostly school district ballot questions.

The longest time between a midterm or presidential election and the county posting its results in the 21st Century was in the 2008 presidential election, when final results weren’t posted until 17 days after the election.

In that election, 1,380,571 ballots were cast in Maricopa County. So far in this election, 1,474,943 ballots have been counted.

Prior to this year’s election, the county and its elections department attempted to prepare those keeping an eye on Arizona races for a slow rollout of results, but that didn’t stop Republican candidates and pundits from claiming that the county is deliberately “slow-rolling” its ballot tabulation.

Many people criticized Maricopa County for counting its ballots so much more slowly than counties in Florida, but election laws and processes in Florida and Arizona are very different.

Florida only allows voters to drop their mail-in ballots at their county elections office on Election Day, while Arizona voters can drop off their ballots at any drop box or polling location on Election Day.

In Maricopa County, a record 290,000 people dropped off their early ballots on Election Day this year. Elections workers didn’t even begin to start counting those ballots until Wednesday morning. Before those ballots are tabulated, their barcodes are scanned to ensure that they came from a registered voter who hasn’t cast another ballot in this election. Then elections workers check the signature on the envelope against past signatures from the voter. After that, a bipartisan team separates the ballot from the envelope and checks that the voter received the correct ballot.

Once all those steps are completed, the county can tabulate the ballot.

“I think it’s unfair for people to criticize Maricopa County for following the law and making sure that only eligible voters’ votes are counted,” Gates said.

Below are the timetables for when Maricopa County released its final results in every presidential and midterm election since 2000, along with the number of ballots cast in each election.

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Caitlin Sievers, Arizona Mirror
Caitlin Sievers, Arizona Mirror

Caitlin joined the Arizona Mirror in 2022 with almost 10 years of experience as a reporter and editor, holding local government leaders accountable from newsrooms across the West and Midwest. She's won statewide awards in Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin for reporting, photography and commentary.