2022 Election: Why is it taking so long for Arizona to count ballots?

It has been more than 24 hours since polls closed, and hundreds of thousands of ballots still need to be counted in Arizona.

As counting efforts continue, some are asking how other states like Florida get election results so fast while Arizona still has no answer on most of the top races.

One factor in the speed of counting is the sheer size of Maricopa County, which is the nation's second largest voting jurisdiction.

For this election, 1.3 million ballots were cast in the county, and 290,000 early ballots were dropped off on Election Day.

The early ballots that came in on Election Day itself are known in some places as "late earlies," the counting of which has been known to hold up tabulation.

2022 Arizona Election: Live updates, results as they come in

Another factor is the ballot verification process.

"When people are told to drop off their early ballot on Election Day, those can't be counted that night. You can't just run them through a machine. They have to be signature checked, scanned first, then processed by a bipartisan board before they can be counted," said former Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell.

Purcell said there has been a massive increase in the number of early ballots cast. Currently, workers are counting ballots that came in over the weekend before Election Day, and on the Monday before Election Day.

"You can't have it instantaneous unless we had a race where we had 60% and 20%," said Helen Purcell.

According to Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, 100,000 more "late earlies" were dropped off this Election Day than in 2020. It's the highest number of early ballots turned in on Election Day in the county's history.

Richer himself has noted that this might spark up a policy debate about the benefits of dropping off early ballots right up to Election Night versus the value of getting immediate answers about election results.

One other factor is the race themselves: Arizona has many tight races, and candidates are jockeying for the lead as new tranches of voting data come in from the various counties. 

As of Nov. 10, many of the state's most closely-watched races have vote differences of 5% or less.

"We knew from the get-go that this election was going to be close, and a lot of ours have been," said Purcell.

There are also about 17,000 outstanding ballots — about 7% of those cast in person on Election Day — that were set aside due to a Tuesday printing problem at about a quarter of the county’s vote tabulation centers. 

A judge denied a request from Republicans to keep the polls open, saying he didn’t see evidence that people were not allowed to vote, and officials said those votes would be tallied throughout the week.

Election officials said they also received about 8,000 provisional ballots on Election Day, which included those cast by people who did not have ID, or those whose records showed they had already voted by mail.

Outside of Maricopa County, about 200,000 ballots remained to be counted, the bulk of them in Pima County, which includes Tucson.

In rural Cochise County, supervisors voted Wednesday to appeal a court ruling that had blocked a full hand-count.

A day before this year’s midterm elections, a judge blocked Cochise County officials’ plan to count by hand, a measure requested by Republican officials who expressed unfounded concerns that vote-counting machines are untrustworthy.

How many ballots are left?

A total of 1.9 million ballots have already been tabulated in Arizona, but there are still more than 619,000 ballots left to count statewide as of Nov. 10.

Protracted vote counts have for years been a staple of elections in Arizona, where the overwhelming majority of votes are cast by mail and many people wait until the last minute to return them. But as Arizona has morphed from a GOP stronghold to a competitive battleground, the delays have increasingly become a source of national anxiety for partisans on both sides.

Get the latest ballot count updates here: https://apps.arizona.vote/info/bps/2022-general-election/33/0

What about Florida?

This explanation might not be the most satisfactory for those comparing Arizona's election processes with much faster states, considering:

  • Both Arizona and Florida start tabulating early votes days before Election Day, and
  • Florida also accepts early ballots until 7 p.m. on Election Night.

However, a vast majority of Floridians send mail-in ballots and vote early. According to the Florida Division of Elections, more than 5 million people voted by mail or in-person at early voting sites out of the total 7.7 million ballots cast.

After Nov. 6, Floridians were also only able to drop off mail-in ballots at their local county elections offices. In Maricopa County, residents have been able to drop off ballots at any available polling site through Nov. 8.

Maricopa County is also significantly larger than any other county in Florida. Miami-Dade County, the most populous area, had around 715,000 voters this election - a little more than half of Maricopa County's voter turnout.

It's unclear how votes were actually dropped off on Election Day in the Sunshine State.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.