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Arizona sees “historic high” turnout for primary election

By: - August 17, 2020 3:13 pm
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Arizona voters make their way to a polling place to cast their ballot during the midterm elections on Nov. 6, 2018. Photo by Ralph Freso | Getty Images

Arizona saw “historic high” turnout in this year’s primary election, in which a record 1.45 million voters cast ballots, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs announced as she certified the official canvass for the Aug. 4 election.

Despite fears and uncertainty surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, more than 36 percent of registered voters in Arizona voted in the primary, an increase of about 10 percent over the 2018 primary and 25 percent more than in 2016, a result that Hobbs called “astounding.”

Of the 1,451,315 ballots cast in the election, about 88 percent were cast by mail, “which provides more proof that Arizona’s ballot-by-mail system works,” Hobbs said on Facebook as she released the results of the canvass. More people voted in the 2020 primary than in any previous primary election in Arizona history.

“This was a historic election for several reasons. Preparing for a primary is an immense undertaking, even under normal circumstances. The complexity this year has been compounded by the pandemic. In spite of this, turnout hit a historic high,” Hobbs said.

About 57,000 more votes were cast in the Republican primaries than Democratic primaries — those totals include independents who voted in partisan primaries — which is a notably smaller margin than Arizona’s majority party usually has.

In 2018, nearly 146,000 more votes were cast in the GOP primaries. In 2016, the Republican advantage was nearly 230,000.

Democrats cast nearly as many early ballots in the 2020 primary as Republicans did, falling short by only about 3,500. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, about 53 percent of Democrats voted in the primary compared to 54 percent of Republicans.

Republican election data expert Paul Bentz, of the firm HighGround, said the primary saw increases across the board, but that Democrats largely drove the record high turnout. 

“Republicans tend to participate more than any other party in these primary elections,” Bentz said. “But what we’re seeing here is Democrats caught up to them in this latest round.”

Bentz couldn’t say if the 36.45 percent turnout for the Aug. 4 election was a record high for a primary in Arizona, but it was at the least the highest of the past 20 years. 

Bentz said the high turnout from the primary indicates that Arizona will likely see record-breaking turnout in the general election, when he expects to see Arizonans cast more than 3 million votes.

Hobbs urged people to sign up for the Permanent Early Voting List or request one-time early ballots. 

“With all of the news about the postal service across the country, I encourage voters to take these steps now as election officials will begin sending out early ballots on Oct. 7,” she said, referencing recent policies pushed by President Donald Trump and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that critics say are aimed at undermining voting by mail in the November election.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”