Saturday’s release of ballots from Arizona’s largest county garnered Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake by a few thousand votes, but she’s still tens of thousands of votes behind Democrat Katie Hobbs. .
Hobbs led Lake by 1.6 percentage points after announcing approximately 85,000 votes from Maricopa County. About 270,000 votes remain uncounted statewide, and Hobbs leads with about 35,000 votes.
Data analysts from both sides believe the final vote count will tilt in Lake’s favor, but it remains unclear whether she will receive enough votes to overtake Hobbs. Republicans have watched anxiously since Tuesday as Hobbs defied their expectations and increased her 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 vote counting center in downtown Phoenix at midday Saturday to draw attention to their concerns about the speed of the vote. slow vote counting. Extended counting is the norm in Arizona, where a record number of people returned ballots by mail on Election Day.
Some protesters wore bulletproof vests or carried handguns as several nearby county sheriffs guarded the complex.
Arizona is at the center of former President Donald Trump’s bid to overturn the 2020 election and cast doubt on the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s victory. Democratic Senator Mark Kelly, who won Friday’s race, has pressed to overcome false claims about a rigged election that have shaped the state’s politics in recent years. past two years.
“After a long election, we may want to continue focusing on the things that divide us,” Kelly said Saturday during her victory speech at a Mexican restaurant in Phoenix. “But we’ve seen the consequences happen when leaders refuse to accept the truth and focus more on past conspiracies than addressing the challenges we face today. “
Kelly’s victory on Friday combined with Senator Catherine Cortez Masto’s victory on Saturday of Nevada means Democrats will retain control of the Senate for the next two years.
Kelly won after separating from Biden and building an image as an independent legislator regardless of his party. He has molded himself into the mold of his late Republican predecessor John McCain, for whom Kelly won the seat in the special election two years ago. His win this year gives him a full six years starting in January.
Kelly said: “Sen. McCain embodies all it takes to be a leader at a time when our state and country are still divided.
Kelly’s opponent, Republican Blake Masters, did not concede, saying in a statement that his team would ensure every legitimate vote counts.
“Ultimately, if Senator Kelly has more than me, then I’ll congratulate him on a tough win,” Masters said. “But voters decide, not the media; 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 his shortfall.
Hours earlier, Masters said on Fox News that Maricopa County, by far the largest county in the state, should stop counting votes and start over because election officials accidentally mixed up counted and uncounted votes. check.
Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for county elections, confirmed ballots had been mixed at the two vote centers but said there were unforeseen circumstances to match batches and get an accurate count. She says similar mistakes have been made before, and the process has been going on for decades and is overseen by observers on both sides.
“There is no legal process to stop counting and start over,” says Gilbertson. “In Maricopa County, we obey the laws as they are written.”
Outside the voting 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 has withdrawn delegates from across the county and from other duties to protect ballots and vote-counters. Noting that the protest was prompted by a tweet from a state lawmaker, Penzone urged elected officials not to summon protesters to the constituency building.
Aaron Kotzbauer, a 52-year-old Republican from the Phoenix suburb of Surprise who voted for Lake and other Republican candidates, said he protested at the election office after Trump lose in 2020 and come again on Saturday to “see if we can get some votes”. sunshine to disinfect Maricopa County vote centers.”
Associated Press writer Bob Christie contributed to this report.