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The Daily Agenda: Late voters decide elections
Because they go last ... More frontrunner flips ... And we'll be your worst nightmare, too.
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While national pundits declared the 2022 midterm “one of the best” ever for Democrats, signifying a “stunning return to the status quo” after election denialism “didn’t play” with the voters, the view from Arizona is a little more complicated.
After racking up surprisingly robust margins early Tuesday night, Democrats started dropping fast after midnight when counties tabulated votes from a surprisingly robust Election Day in-person turnout that heavily favored Republicans. All statewide races (except treasurer) are still too close to call, with at least 620,000 ballots remaining in the balance as of Wednesday night.
Wednesday’s returns from Maricopa County slightly favored Democrats. Those updates, along with updates from Pima County, helped ensure Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs never dipped below 50% on Wednesday as rural counties reported more votes for Republicans. In Maricopa County, Wednesday’s updates didn’t include the 17,000 “door 3” ballots that in-person Election Day voters cast, but couldn’t immediately tabulate at polling locations after the printer debacle, which are expected to heavily favor Republicans.
Democrats are still in the game — but just barely.
The fate of many of Arizona’s races will come down to “late early” and “drop-off” ballots — classifications political geeks use to describe mail ballots that arrive on the weekend before Election Day, and those that voters drop off at a polling place on Election Day. Those are, mostly, what counties will be counting from here on out.
And those late-early and drop-off ballots are far more unpredictable than “early early” ballots and in-person Election Day votes, which these days strongly favor Democrats and Republicans, respectively. Those remaining ballots are so unpredictable, in fact, we don't even know exactly how many there are.1 And we don’t have a breakdown of how many of those came from registered Democrats vs. Republicans.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake has been priming her followers to expect huge gains from these late early and drop-off ballots, as she saw from Election Day voters. And when that didn’t happen Wednesday night, her supporters immediately cried conspiracy, absurdly claiming the county counted anti-Lake ballots to punish her for going on Tucker Carlson’s show yesterday.
Political number crunchers like Republican pollster Paul Bentz still expect Lake to gain enough votes in the coming days to pull it off. But it’ll be a squeaker. While in past years, late earlies and drop-offs have favored Democrats, that trend is shifting as more Republicans held onto their ballots longer this year.
Based on estimates of how many ballots are left to count, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly and Democratic secretary of state candidate Adrian Fontes are probably safe, Bentz said. Their opponents would need about 57% of the remaining votes to win, which is pretty steep.
But Lake and Republican AG candidate Abe Hamadeh would only need about 51% of the remaining votes to pull ahead of Hobbs and Dem AG candidate Kris Mayes.
“Donald Trump got 57% of the vote one single day” during post-election counting in 2020, Bentz said. “But it's hard for me to think that in a default midterm environment that benefits Republicans by eight points, that they can’t eke out a single percentage point.”
But with races this tight, it’ll all come down to Arizona’s last-delivered and last-counted votes.
As expected, Republicans have taken the lead in several of the races we mentioned in yesterday’s edition. As of Wednesday night’s final update, these are the races where the frontrunner had flipped.
Statewide offices: Tom Horne, the Republican former attorney general and superintendent of public instruction challenging current Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, pulled ahead by less than 8,000 votes.
Congress: Republican Juan Ciscomani pulled ahead of Democrat Kirsten Engel in Southern Arizona’s CD6 by nearly 8,000 votes. (Meanwhile, Republican Eli Crane expanded his lead over Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran in CD2 and Democrat Jevin Hodge maintained his thin lead over Republican U.S. Rep. David Schweikert.)
Legislature: As things stand Wednesday night, Republicans are on track to maintain narrow control of both the state House and Senate. If all current numbers held, the House would be 31-29 and the Senate would be 16-14, the exact margins of the current Legislature.
Republicans took the lead in both the Senate and House races in Pima County’s LD172. Republican Justine Wadsack surged ahead of Dem Mike Nickerson in the Senate, while Democrat Dana Allmond dropped to third place for the district’s two House seats, behind Republicans Rachel Jones and Cory McGarr. Also, Republican Liz Harris now leads Republican Julie Willoughby for the second House seat (behind Democratic Rep. Jennifer Pawlik) in the Chandler-based LD13. Finally, In Pinal County’s LD16, Democratic House candidate Keith Seaman dropped to second place behind Republican Rep. Teresa Martinez, still putting him on track for the district’s second house seat, but only barely — Seaman leads Republican Rob Hudelson by just 12 votes.
Not so fast: Republican Abe Hamadeh basically declared victory in the race for Arizona attorney general Wednesday afternoon after taking the lead over Democrat Kris Mayes by about 4,000 votes in a state that still had more than a half-million ballots to count. But that lead turned out to be a short-lived blip. He was back down by more than 4,000 votes by Wednesday night.
We like waiting: While distancing himself from Maricopa County’s flawed Election Day voting (which to be fair is not his responsibility), Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer called for having a “policy discussion” on whether to allow people to drop off ballots on Election Day, noting that contributes to delayed election results.
Bad vibes all around: The AZGOP election night “victory party” was a “rage-filled celebration” of “fury and fanaticism” rather than Republican victories, as Republican leaders eschewed decency, stoked paranoia and hurled insults at their bad-vibes event, columnist Dana Milbank writes in the Washington Post. Meanwhile, Democrats told another Washington Post columnist that their big leads Tuesday night were because of Republicans’ focus on immigration in a piece that is not aging well.
Give autocracy a chance?: Democracy may still be the worst form of government besides all the others, but it isn’t exactly living up to its potential, Substacker Robert Robb writes while surveying democracies worldwide.
“I don’t mean to be alarmist. … Still, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that democracies are underperforming, that they could do better at providing stable, problem-solving governance,” he writes.
Long live swing state AZ!: Red State Arizona is dead, Blake Morlock writes in the Tucson Sentinel, citing the at-best narrow wins that the ultra MAGA slate may rack up in what was supposed to be a “red tsunami” midterm. We’re now officially a swing state, he writes.
#SlowTheSpread: The New York Times tracks how right-wing influencers helped boost news and misinformation about Maricopa County’s printer fiasco. And elsewhere, the Times notes that Twitter has seen a sharp right shift since Elon Musk took over and fired half the staff, and that contributed to the spread of misinformation about the very real problems in Maricopa County on Election Day.
They’re not deterred: Cochise County is appealing the superior court ruling blocking it from doing a full hand recount of ballots from Tuesday’s election, the Yellow Sheet Report reports. And the county is going ahead with its hand count plans regardless, the Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl reports.
All politics is local: The Republic breaks down city council and mayoral election results in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Peoria, Gilbert, Flagstaff, Sedona and Sierra Vista. The Republic also has you covered for school board race results in the Valley, while the Arizona Daily Star rounds up the Tucson school board races.
Soviet gulag by another name: Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner is being moved to a “penal colony” in Russia after losing her appeal on her nine-year sentence for some weed vape cartridges. Her lawyers aren’t sure where she is now, the Associated Press reports. And, yes, Russian penal colonies are as horrific as you imagine, CNN writes.
We had been meaning to laugh at this video of Kari Lake promising to be the press’ “worst freaking nightmare,” if she gets elected. But the Republic’s E.J. Montini beat us to the punch with this piece that perfectly summarizes why that’s a ludicrous claim. Montini notes he has been in the news business long enough to know that “it is infinitely more difficult to cover a politician who possesses intelligence and expertise than one who is ignorant.”
“Apparently, 20-plus years seated behind a desk in a studio, reading from a teleprompter, taught Lake nothing about the news business,” he writes. “...Politicians like Lake — and like many others in Arizona holding elected office — may be a nightmare for their constituents and their communities, but for journalists they’re the gift that keeps on giving.”
Lawmakers recently passed a law requiring counties to report the number of ballots still awaiting tabulation after Election Day. But the law is pretty weak, and only requires a best estimate. And of course, those shifting estimates of how many ballots are left to count lead to more election conspiracies.
Correction: A previous version of this post described LD17 as based in Pinal County. In fact, most of it is in Pima County