Aug 12, 2022 - Politics

Business as usual as Maricopa County wraps up primary vote count

Days taken to count ballots after Maricopa County <span style="display: inline-block; margin: 1px 0px; background: #a283ff; padding: 2px; color: white; white-space: nowrap">primary</span> and <span style="display: inline-block; margin: 1px 0px; background: #5326d9; padding: 2px; color: white; white-space: nowrap">general</span> elections
Data: Maricopa County Elections Department; Chart: Skye Witley/Axios

Maricopa County finished counting ballots Wednesday evening, eight days after primary day, which puts the count roughly on par with every primary election going back to at least 2006.

  • In each of the past nine statewide primary elections, Maricopa County took between seven and 10 days to finish counting ballots.

Context: Some critics were quick to accuse Maricopa County of taking too long — especially supporters of GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, whose race against Karrin Taylor Robson wasn't called until two days after the election. But there was nothing unusual about this year's tabulation process.

  • "That's the irony of it . ... We're actually getting it done quicker than we have in the past, but that's not the perception with some," says Bill Gates, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

There are several reasons why counting ballots takes as long as it does.

Details: The first ballots to be counted are mail-in ballots that arrive before election day. In Maricopa County, those made up about 69% of the total votes cast in the primary election.

  • After the polls close, election officials collect the drives from the tabulators used to count the ballots cast by in-person voters on primary day and transport them to the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center.
  • The tabulators cannot be connected to the internet for security reasons, delaying the process.

Early ballots that are dropped off on primary day take a bit longer because election officials don't collect them until after the polls close. Those must be transported to the county's vendor, Runbeck Election Services, which scans images of the envelopes they're in so election officials can verify the signatures they use to confirm voters' identities.

  • The images aren't ready for election officials until around 8am the next day, and the actual counting of those ballots begins the following day.
  • Voters dropped off about 122,000 early ballots on primary day.

1 new-ish thing: Starting in 2020, county election officials were permitted to begin tabulating early ballots two weeks before the election instead of one week, which speeds up the count.

1 other thing: In 2019, the legislature passed a law creating a mandatory five-day "curing" period for election officials to confirm the identities of voters whose signatures couldn't be verified.

  • That period ended at 5pm Tuesday, meaning Wednesday was the earliest that any county could complete the process.

Of note: The overwhelming majority of voters use early ballots, including nearly 88% in last week's primary election.

Yes, but: The prevalence of early ballots doesn't appear to have any relation to how long it takes to count ballots.

  • For example, in 2006, early ballots made up only 38.6% of the total primary election vote, but it took the county nine days to finish counting.
  • The shortest counting periods of the past 16 years were in 2010, 2014 and 2020 primaries, when the count took only seven days.

What's next: Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer tells Axios Phoenix that the legislature could help speed up the process if counties were allowed to begin collecting early ballots that are dropped off on primary day before the polls close.

  • That would allow for counties to begin counting those ballots on the Wednesday after the election instead of on Thursday.
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