PHOENIX -- It took until 15 days after the election, but all valid votes in Arizona have now been counted, including a record number of provisional ballots that fueled suspicions of voter suppression among Latino voters and raised questions about the integrity of the electoral process in the state.
The tallies ended on Wednesday after officials gave the state's most populous counties -- Maricopa, which encompasses Phoenix, and Pima, which includes Tucson -- permission to extend their counts past last Friday's deadline so that they could get through the tens of thousands of provisional ballots cast in both places.
Results announced on or just after election night remained unchanged, though it took days for three Congressional races to be decided. All of them were won by Democrats, who will replace Republicans as a majority in the state's Congressional delegation come January. It was only on Wednesday afternoon that one of the winners, Kyrsten Sinema, was able to find out the number of votes that put her ahead of her opponent, Vernon Parker, a Republican, in the race for Arizona's Ninth Congressional District -- "10,251," she announced on Twitter. "Thank you."
In an interview, the secretary of state, Ken Bennett, insisted "the system is not broken," saying it took just as many days to count the votes four years ago as it did this time. Still, he acknowledged that the state could do better, joining a growing chorus of elected officials, civil rights advocates and community organizers calling for a faster way to tally the ballots.
"Speed is not our No. 1 goal. Accuracy is our No. 1 goal. But that doesn't mean we can't think of a way to speed up the process," Mr. Bennett said.
Ideas and plenty of criticism have been floating around in meetings, e-mail and letters since the exact number of ballots left to be counted after the polls closed -- 631,274 -- came to be known. This week, Democrats called for a bipartisan investigation to scrutinize some of the issues raised by voters and campaigns, like the fragmentation of the election process -- run independently by each of the state's 15 counties -- and the difficulties some voters who signed up to vote by mail seemed to have had in differentiating sample ballots from real ones.
"We need the process to be better explained to voters, especially because we had so many new voters registered ahead of the election," said Luis Heredia, the executive director of the state's Democratic Party.
In Maricopa County, which has roughly 60 percent of all registered voters in the state, 115,000 votes were cast through provisional ballots, a 15 percent increase from 2008, based on state records. Some 59,000 people who requested early ballots also went to the polls on Nov. 6, accounting for almost half of all provisional ballots cast. According to complaints logged by grass-roots groups working to mobilize Latino voters, many were first-time voters who signed up to get their ballots by mail and claimed not to have received them.
The county's recorder, Helen Purcell, said it was possible that some voters tossed their ballots, not knowing what they were. Advocates countered that the state should have run a more comprehensive voter-education campaign.
Instead, there was confusion, they said, particularly with outreach to Spanish-speaking voters in Maricopa County, where leaflets listed the wrong date for the election. Petra Falcón, executive director of Promise Arizona, part of a coalition that says it has registered almost 35,000 voters this year, said that based on the complaints, language barriers also kept many Spanish-speaking voters in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods from understanding poll workers.
"We need certain skill sets to address the changing electorate, and one of them is language," Ms. Falcón said.
She and her counterparts are nonetheless celebrating small victories. They supported Paul Penzone, a Democrat, who came closer than anyone to defeating Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a Republican elected to a sixth term. (Mr. Arpaio won by 80,639 votes.) Also, in a state where registered Republicans hold a plurality, Latino voters helped Richard H. Carmona, a Latino and a Democrat, stay competitive against his Republican opponent, Jeff Flake, in the race for the Senate seat held by Jon Kyl, a Republican who is retiring. (Mr. Carmona lost by fewer than 68,000 votes.)
One of the questions that remains is whether provisional ballots were cast disproportionately by Latino and black voters. Though an analysis of where the provisional ballots came from could take some time, Ms. Falcón said, "Behind every provisional ballot was a determined voter who knew their vote needed to count that day."nation
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.