Something is rotten in the state of Arizona. And it stinks of a festering campaign to suppress the growing political power of the state's Latino population.
Because they're still counting nearly 200,000 "provisional" ballots that were handed out in massive numbers because of the large number of first-time voters whose mail-in ballots were not delivered, and others who did not receive their sample ballots, showing up on Election Day with only hats in hand -- even though they had legally registered. From the WSJ:
Arizona elections officials continued chipping away at a mountain of uncounted ballots from the Nov. 6 election, but more than 192,000 uncounted ballots remained Wednesday night, leaving results up in the air and prompting protests from the Latino community.
At least one high-profile contest remains in the balance: the closely watched congressional race between incumbent Democrat Ron Barber—the chosen successor to former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords—and Republican Martha McSally. As of Wednesday evening, 943 votes separated the candidates, with Mr. Barber ahead.
Many candidates with large leads—such as Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Flake and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio—have declared victory while their opponents conceded.
But state election officials cautioned that with so many uncounted ballots they couldn't confirm the outcome of any races. The state plans to release its official results Dec. 3, but "that doesn't stop candidates from declaring victory or conceding defeat," said Matthew Roberts, spokesman for the Arizona Secretary of State's office, which oversees elections.
More than 163,700 uncounted ballots are provisional ballots—meaning ballots that need to be checked for missing information, such as the voter's identity or to ensure the voter hadn't filled out two ballots, or voted at the wrong polling place. The remaining 28,550 uncounted ballots are early mail ballots.
Voters who couldn't provide identification at their polling place had until the end of Wednesday to provide it so their ballots would be counted. But groups that worked to register Latino voters in the state said they feared that some provisional ballots might not be counted if those voters weren't aware of the requirement.
You read that right: If you were handed one of these provisional ballots, you had until yesterday to get back to the courthouse and prove that you voted legitimately. If not, your vote gets tossed.
And even if you do show up and prove your vote legitimate, there's the nagging suspicion it will end up uncounted anyway:
"I think a lot of Latino votes were left out on purpose," said 18-year-old Nicolas Botello, protesting outside the Maricopa County Recorder's office Thursday night. Mr. Botello said he voted, but said he fears other voters won't be counted because they received provisional ballots that may be disqualified.
Some protesters left hand-written notes on a large cork board propped up on the sidewalk behind a statue of the Virgin Mary. One such note read: "I registered to vote but they made me cast a provisional ballot. Did it count?"
So far, Senate Democratic candidate Richard Carmona has not unconceded his race, though he is being urged to do so, since the heavy Latino count inherent in these ballots could change the outcome of his race as well.
But the Barber-McSally race is attracting the usual Republican vote-suppression tactics, as AlterNet's Laura Gottesdiener reports:
Democratic congressman Ron Barber is locked in a tight battle against Republican challenger Martha McSally for a congressional seat in a district of Southern Arizona that includes the city of Tucson. The seat was once held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and the race is now gaining national attention as voter disenfranchisement threatens to tip the balance in favor of the Republican challenger.
As of Tuesday, Barber had a 829-vote lead , but McSally is using every dirty trick in the book to try to cut into Barber’s lead by attempting to disqualify votes cast in predominately Latino districts, where voters went heavily for Democrat Barber.
Tuesday, the Republican’s attorneys filed a court motion seeking a temporary restraining order to stop Cochise County from counting the ballots, alleging that 130 votes should be disqualified because they “have been spoiled because they were not sealed, as required, when they were transported from the Castro Park, Ramsey and Hopi Precinct polling locations to the Cochise County Elections Department and Recorder’s Office.”
Koss had noticed a trend as she called voters to remind them to head to the polls. Repeatedly she found that voters that registered for the first time had not received their sample ballots and did not know where their polls were. Many of the first time voters also had requested mail in ballots that never arrived. “Something here is not right,” she had told MarioWire during a phone call the Monday before the November 6th election. On election day she told Mariowire.com about the stated election results in Maricopa “these numbers do not add up”. As a numbers prone economist Ellee Koss should know.
“This is a sad commentary on democracy in Arizona” said Randy Parraz who leads Citizens for a Better Arizona. What we are seeing in Maricopa County is a systemic breakdown of the election process”.
The tactics are hitting home especially for new citizens, such as this Iranian man who was voting for the first time:
As the video's description explains:
When he received his voter registration card he was very happy because he could vote in a free and fair election for the first time in his life! When he got to the polls they told him that his name was not on the list and he would have to cast a provisional ballot. He asked if they would count them and they told him yes 100% but with 500,000 votes uncounted he is now less sure. This is very disappointing to him personally because he left his country and came here because he thought this was going to be a new place he could have rights. In Iran he says they had no freedom, no democracy. And he feels like the five years he worked to become a citizen was for nothing.
Heckuva job there, Arizona. As Rachel Maddow says in the video atop this post, this is a matter of deliberately making it hard for minorities to vote.