PHOENIX (AP) — Saturday’s release of ballots from Arizona’s largest county netted a few thousand votes for Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, but she still trails Democrat Katie Hobbs by tens of thousands of newsletters.
Hobbs led Lake by 1.6 percentage points after about 85,000 Maricopa County votes were released. About 270,000 ballots remain uncounted statewide, and Hobbs leads by about 35,000 votes.
Data analysts on both sides believe the tally will eventually change in Lake’s favor, but it’s not yet clear whether she’ll get enough votes to overtake Hobbs. Republicans have watched anxiously since Tuesday as Hobbs defied their expectations and increased his lead every day, including Saturday when combined with results from the rest of the state.
About 50 conservative protesters gathered outside the fence around the Maricopa County Election Tabulation Center in downtown Phoenix at noon Saturday to draw attention to their concerns about the slow vote count. Extended counts are the norm in Arizona, where record numbers of people returned mail-in ballots on Election Day.
A few protesters wore ballistic vests or carried handguns as a number of nearby county sheriff’s deputies guarded the compound.
Arizona played a pivotal role in former President Donald Trump’s effort to void the 2020 election and cast doubt on the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s victory. Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, who won his race on Friday, insisted on ignoring false allegations of a fraudulent election that have shaped state policy for the past two years.
“After a long election, it can be tempting to stay focused on the things that divide us,” Kelly said Saturday in a victory speech at a Mexican restaurant in Phoenix. “But we have seen the consequences that arise when leaders refuse to accept the truth and focus more on the conspiracies of the past than on solving the challenges we face today.”
Kelly’s victory Friday combined with a victory Saturday for Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada means Democrats will retain control of the Senate for the next two years.
Kelly won after distancing himself from Biden and building an image of an independent lawmaker not beholden to his party. He cast himself in the mold of his predecessor, the late Republican John McCain, whose seat Kelly won in a special election two years ago. His win this year gives him a full six years from January.
“Sen. McCain embodied everything it was to be a leader at a time when our state and our country remain divided,” Kelly said.
Kelly’s opponent, Republican Blake Masters, did not back down, saying in a statement that his team will make sure every legal vote is counted.
“If, in the end, Senator Kelly has more than me, then I will congratulate him on a hard-fought victory,” Masters said. “But voters decide, not the media; let’s count the votes.
The AP declared Kelly the winner after the release of results from 75,000 ballots in Maricopa County made it clear that Masters could not make up its shortfall.
Hours earlier, Masters told Fox News that Maricopa County, which is by far the largest in the state, should stop counting ballots and start over because election officials had inadvertently mixed up ballots. counted and uncounted.
Megan Gilbertson, spokeswoman for the county election department, confirmed that ballots were mixed up at two voting centers, but said there were contingencies to reconcile each batch and get an accurate tally. She said similar mistakes had been made before and the process had been in place for decades and was overseen by observers from both sides.
“There is no legal process in place to stop counting and start over,” Gilbertson said. “In Maricopa County, we follow the laws as written.”
Outside the election building in Phoenix, some protesters carried American flags, campaign signs for Lake or signs with slogans such as “Kari Lake Won”, “Count The Votes” and “Hobbs is a Cheat” .
Sheriff Paul Penzone said he pulled deputies across the county and other missions to protect ballots and the people counting them. Noting that the protest was sparked by a tweet from a state lawmaker, Penzone urged elected officials not to summon protesters to the election building.
Aaron Kotzbauer, a 52-year-old Republican from the Phoenix suburb of Surprise who voted for Lake and the other GOP candidates, said he protested at the Elections Office following Trump’s 2020 defeat and was Came back Saturday to “see if we could get some sun to sanitize the Maricopa County Election Center.
Associated Press writer Bob Christie contributed to this report.