Arizona Latinos Frustrated by Slow Ballot Count

PHOTO: People wait in line to vote at the First New Life Missionary Baptist Church at 19th Ave. and Roeser, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 in Phoenix.Tom Tingle, The Arizona Republic/AP Photo
People wait in line to vote at the First New Life Missionary Baptist Church at 19th Ave. and Roeser, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 in Phoenix.

Arizona is still counting ballots more than a week after the election.

According to The Arizona Republic, there were still 324,000 votes that had not been tallied as of Tuesday evening, and many of them were provisional ballots that need to be verified before they can be counted.

Some, such as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, say the voting system deliberately attempts to disenfranchise new voters, especially minorities. And the Republic said that Latino protesters stormed county elections offices last week to demand that all votes be counted.

While there is no solid evidence of deliberate disenfranchisement, there are still questions about the vote counting procedures used in major areas.

Of the 121,000 provisional ballots cast in Maricopa County -- Arizona's biggest population center -- about half were given to people who showed up at polls even though they were on early voting rolls, reports the Republic. And some people were confused about what ID is required to vote in the state. Voters who showed up at polls without the correct ID were required to cast provisional ballots and then return with proper identification.

Camila Gallardo, a spokeswoman for Latino advocacy organization National Council of La Raza, says she finds it "incredulous" that a state that is not one of the nation's most populous is taking such a long time to count ballots.

"At the end of the day, the result is that people do get disenfranchised," she said. "So whether it's a combination of somebody purposefully trying to do these things or the fact that maybe officials were unprepared, the fact that people are being kept out of the process is worrisome."

Arizona has been a red state for decades, but 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain carried his home state by only 195,404 votes. There are hundreds of thousands of eligible Latino voters in the state, and while the final 2012 numbers are not in yet, Latinos could theoretically turn the state blue in the not-too-distant future.

But reports from Arizona indicate that while Latinos there voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney, turnout was probably not enough to sway the end result.

Joeseph Garcia of the Morrisson Institute for Public Policy wrote in the Tucson Sentinel that "a large number of Latinos not energized to vote for Obama -- and thereby perhaps not voting at all - was a killer for other Democratic campaigns in Arizona."

While the Obama campaign targeted Latino voters in swing states such as Colorado and Nevada, it spent less time focusing on Arizona, meaning that it may have been harder for Democrats to get Latinos to turn out at the polls. Democratic candidates such as Richard Carmona, who ran for a U.S. Senate seat, and Paul Penzone, who ran against controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, also lost.

But according to Matt Barreto of political opinion research firm Latino Decisions, there was actually an increase in Latino voter turnout in Arizona this election. He said the number of white voters casting ballots for Romney also grew, which eventually gave him the edge in the state in this election.

But that strategy might not work in future elections. Barreto said new Latino voters in the state are voting almost entirely Democratic and Republicans will have trouble winning statewide if they nominate candidates in the mold of Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the state's controversial SB 1070 immigration law.

Although it is virtually impossible at this point for the uncounted provisional ballots to change the result of the presidential race or the state's Senate contest, they could play a key role in determing the winner of one undecided House contest. The Huffington Post reported that attorneys for Republican candidate Martha McSally filed a motion to stop counting 130 provisional ballots from a majority-Latino precinct, arguing that the ballots were compromised. The campaign of Democrat Ron Barber has said that the votes should be counted, arguing that McSally's efforts amount to disenfranchisement.