Corp Comm write-in race won’t be settled until days after election




One of the biggest questions of the primary election, whether the Republican Party will cede a Corporation Commission seat to the Democrats without putting up a fight, may not be answered by the end of Tuesday night.

Several Republican Corporation Commission candidates were knocked off the ballot by legal challenges this year, leaving the GOP with only two candidates for the three seats that are up for election in November. Jim O’Connor, who ran and lost for the commission in 2018, was quickly recruited to mount a write-in campaign.

In order for O’Connor’s name to appear on the ballot in November alongside fellow Republicans Lea Marquez Peterson, an incumbent commissioner, and Eric Sloan, he must get at least 6,663 write-in votes. 

Estimates for exactly how long it will take to count votes for O’Connor, along with other write-in candidates for other offices, vary. The Secretary of State’s Office said it’s unlikely that it will receive write-in totals from counties on Tuesday evening, and won’t post write-in votes on its election results web page that day. 

Write-in votes are counted by a three-person board consisting of people who are members of the two political parties that received the highest number of votes in the last general election. Many counties tabulate those votes by hand, generally after other ballots have been counted. Counties finalize their write-in reports once all of the write-in votes have been tallied. 

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes said it will likely take a couple days to count write-in votes. Brad Nelson of the Pima County Recorder’s Office estimated that it would take a week to determine O’Connor’s fate. Elections officials have a total of 10 days to count the ballots.

But the tally will go more swiftly in Maricopa and Pima counties due to new systems they’ve put in place for write-in votes in the 2020 election cycle.

In previous elections, the machines that read ballots would flag ballots with write-in votes, but only if the votes were cast in a race with a qualified write-in candidate. If a voter writes in a name for a race where no one has filed to run a write-in campaign, the machines would ignore it. When the machines flagged a write-in vote in an appropriate race, election workers would have to pull that ballot out by hand and examine it to see who a write-in vote was cast for, which Nelson said was a more laborious process.

Now, the computers scan an image of that ballot for the county’s adjudication board to examine. The board determines whether the vote was cast for a legitimate write-in candidate like O’Connor. Misspellings and nicknames are counted, as long as the intent of the voter can be determined. Voters must both fill in the bubble for the write-in spot and write in a candidate’s name. If voters write in a name but don’t fill in the bubble, the ballot won’t be counted.

Nelson said the new system makes things easier, but counting those write-in votes will still take time. And whatever happens, the total won’t be official until the Pima County Board of Supervisors approves the official canvass of the election on Aug. 14, he said.

“Certainly, we will know how many write-in votes were cast. But whether they were for bonafide write-in candidates as opposed to Bart Simpson or whatever else somebody might write in on that line, that’s going to take us actually eyeballing … images of ballots,” Nelson said.

Fontes, too, said the new system will help streamline the process. He said Maricopa County will have its citizen adjudication boards working in shifts, possibly double shifts, depending on the number of ballots they have to examine.

“It may take a day or two. It may take a little bit longer. But we want to make sure to get the work done right, not necessarily quickly, so we’re going to take our time and do the work right,” Fontes said.

O’Connor was optimistic about his chances on Monday. He said the Arizona Republican Party has been using email blasts to get the word out about candidacy and urge people to write in his name. His goal is to take anywhere between double and triple the number of votes he needs, which would be between 14,000 and 21,000. 

“I’m feeling particularly confident that we’ll have a victory tomorrow,” O’Connor said. “We’ll see what the good Lord delivers.”

Despite his late entry into the race — he didn’t begin his campaign until mid-May — O’Connor has already managed to pull off one impressive feat by qualifying for Clean Elections funding. 

O’Connor was able to collect 2,019 $5 qualifying contributions that will allow him to receive public funding for his campaign, presuming he makes it to the general election. O’Connor not only managed to collect enough qualifying contributions in just two months, he did so before most of the other candidates, who have been running since last year.