By Cecilia Chan, Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Daniel Gonzalez and Dennis Wagner
Voters in Tuesday’s presidential election faced unusually long lines that were exacerbated by a large number of provisional ballots.
Officials with Promise Arizona in Action, an organization that advocates immigration reform and fights discrimination, said they are concerned that poll workers were given pre-election instructions, which may have forced the huge number of provisional ballots.
They also said in Tuesday’s late night news conference that numerous voters reported their names were not on lists used by precinct workers.
Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, said she was told that 200,000 provisional ballots were cast, as well as 200,000 early ballots. She said counting of those votes will not even begin until Wednesday morning and she was fearful that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s race will be called before then.
Unofficial election returns showed Sheriff Joe Arpaio headed for a sixth term.
“Four hundred thousand ballots – that’s a lot,” said Falcon. “Even if it’s an Arpaio win, those votes should be counted.”
Roopali Desai, Promise Arizona’s attorney, said the number of provisional ballots is “unprecedented” in Arizona, or anywhere. “Nobody can explain it,” she added. “We’re trying to get to the bottom of it.”
But Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett told 12 News that the number of provisional ballots is normal. The number is closer to 100,00 to 125,000, Bennett said.
Bennett said the majority of voters who cast a provisional ballot was because of an address change that needed to be updated or didn’t turn in the early ballot on time.
“Everything will be counted in the next couple of days,” Bennett said.
It appeared that most of the provisional ballot cast were in Maricopa County.
Desai said the provisional ballot explosion produced long lines and may have caused some qualified voters to walk away out of frustration or confusion.
Desai added that the surge in provisional balloting seemed especially strong in minority neighborhoods. If that suspicion is verified by post-election analyses, she added, “It won’t look good for the county.”
Some South Phoenix voters waited upwards of an hour at Maravilla Care Center on Seventh Street, just north of Dobbins Road.
A post-work crowd about 75-people-deep flooded out of the building, along the sidewalk and out onto the landscaping rocks, many dressed in scrubs or work shirts.
Lydia Guzman, executive director of Respeto (Respect), a Hispanic activist group in Phoenix, said there appeared to be many voters frustrated by problems involving provisional ballots at the Maravilla Care Center.
“We probably need poll workers with better training,” Guzman said. “I was inside and some of them are clearly flustered.”
Gabriel Polanco, 19, who was among those who trying to cast ballots, said he had to visit the polling site four times before he was allowed to vote.
Polanco said he was excited about his first election, but arrived to learn that his name was not on the list of registered voters. Polanco, who registered last month, said his voter ID card had not arrived in the mail, so he showed his driver license and asked to cast a provisional ballot, but was told he would need additional identification.
Polanco said he went home and returned with his vehicle title, a bank statement and other documents, but was turned away again because the address on his driver license was for his father’s business, not the family’s residence.
“I started getting frustrated – more down than anything,” Polanco said.
Polanco went to a Motor Vehicle Division office and got a new driver license showing his home address. Again, Polanco said, he was told that he could not vote because his name was not on the registered voter list. Polanco said he was ready to give up when he got a call from home: His voter ID card arrived in the mail.
On a fourth visit to the polls, workers allowed him to vote, but insisted he use a provisional ballot.
“It was just ridiculous at that point,” Polanco said. “I kind of understand why people are turned off by this… It’s supposed to be a right to vote, and they’re making it so difficult.”
Provisional ballots are given to those who don’t show up on the poll roster or fail to produce proper identification.
Frank Camacho, spokesman for the Arizona Democratic Party, said there could be close to 400,000 provisional and early ballots cast.
“When you add in the combination of early ballots that have been turned into the polls over the weekend and today...there could be close to 400,000 ballots that will not be counted today.”
Falcon, says that provisional ballots are shaping up to be a "huge issue."
She said many voters in heavily Latino districts are being told their names are not on the voter rolls and therefore they have to vote by provisional ballot. Some also have been told they signed up for early ballots. She said her organization has called Maricopa County election officials to report the issue.
Over the past six months, a coalition of 10 Latino groups had been going door to door, registering new voters.
The voter-registration drives were part of a concerted effort by advocacy groups to increase the number of Latino voters in Arizona to counter what they consider anti-Latino policies such as Arizona's immigration law, Senate Bill 1070, and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration-enforcement sweeps.
Falcon said at the Stump precinct in southwest Phoenix, 300 of the 400 voters as of early afternoon had to fill out provisional ballots. The precinct is located at Union Elementary School, 3834 S. 91st Ave.
"We don't know why it's happening," she said. "We are trying to find out."
Falcon said 82 volunteers from Promise Arizona had been going door to door in Latino neighborhoods since 6 a.m., encouraging people to vote.
Francisco Heredia, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, said a polling place in south Phoenix opened this morning 45 minutes late. The group has been working to increase the number of Latino voters in Arizona.
When a volunteer from his group arrived at the Roeser precinct at First New Life Church at 19th Avenue and Roeser there was a line of more than 20 people outside waiting for the polling place to open. Polls were suppose to open at 6 a.m.
Heredia said his group has also received many calls from voters concerned they had to vote by provisional ballot.
"They wanted to know if their vote would count," Heredia said.
He said the voters who said they had to vote by provisional ballot were a mixture of first-time voters and others.
The Mitchell Park precinct in Tempe reportedly ran out of provisional ballots. It took about two hours to get additional ones to the location, prompting many voters to leave without voting.
Voters in other parts of the Valley have also encountered issues with provisional ballots.
Shannon Johnson said she waited in line for hour and a half to get a provisional ballot because her Gilbert precinct ran out of envelopes to put the ballots in. The woman forgot to update her address when she moved from Chandler.
“They just stopped helping people because they ran out of envelopes,” Johnson, 35, said. “It’s frustrating because I thought I would be in and out.”
Johnson said she noticed that a handful of people left without voting.
Ray McGuran said he waited 2.5 hours in line to cast a provisional ballot in Glendale.
“I got in at 11 a.m. and got out after 2 p.m.,” McGuran said. “There were at least 50 people with provisional ballots.”
He said polling officials told him he had received an early ballot, which he said he never requested and never received and was required to use a provisional ballot Tuesday.
“I ended up dragging a folding chair around with me,” the 67-year-old man said. “The time it took was unnecessary.”
When Jason Whiteside, 32, a sales representative for Pepsi, showed up to vote at The Gathering Place in north central Phoenix, he was told he could not fill out a regular ballot because his name was on a list of voters who had requested an early ballot by mail.
Whiteside said he doesn't recall ever receiving the early ballot. To vote, he had to fill out a provisional ballot.
Kristina Proctor, 59, said she has voted in every election since 2001 and never had a problem until Tuesday.
After she was sent to three different polling precincts because poll workers could not find her name on the voting roster, she was finally given a provisional ballot, Proctor said.
“I don’t think they ever get counted,” she said.
Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said the county has had a larger than normal amount of provisional ballots cast at polling places this year.
Voters are casting their ballots on a number of key races, including U.S. President.
Osborne said the reason is many voters ordered an early ballot but went to the polls to vote without it.
“The biggest group we have of people who vote provisional is those who ordered an early ballot,” Osborne said.
There several reasons for that, Osborne said. Many voters claim they never got their ballots, which could be true or a family member could have misplaced it. Others mailed their ballots, but are worried the ballot won’t get there in time to be counted, so they vote at the polls, she added.
Provisional ballots is to ensure the voters don’t vote twice – at the polls and by early ballot.
The county estimates provisionals could be as many as 100,000, Osborne said. The record number of provisional ballots for an election is 101,000, she said.
Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said voters may have been frustrated with the long waits to vote provisionally but it’s an important part of the election system in the state so no one is turned away from the ballot box.
Poll watchers told 12 News that much of the provisional voting occurred in Latino areas such as in south Phoenix and Laveen.
Bennett responded that all valid ballots will be counted.
Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell reported nearly 600,000 of the 770,623 early ballots received, were processed Tuesday morning.
Purcell initially estimated up to 75,000 provisional ballots cast Tuesday but expected that to increase, based on the reports of provisional ballots being cast.
Although polls closed at 7 p.m., a number of precincts in the Valley still had long lines of people waiting to vote, Purcell said.
One precinct in Mesa had 200 people in line at 7 p.m., she said.
“Some of them may have lines for a while,” she said. "It's going to be a while until we see all the precincts come in.”
Purcell anticipated that it will take 10 to 12 days to tabulate and process the votes during this election.
Election officials will begin tabulating ballots again starting 9 a.m. on Wednesday.
“We’re not going to sacrifice time for accuracy,” Purcell said.