Hobbs increases lead in Arizona governor's race
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- The question of who will be the next governor of Arizona will likely come down to which voters waited until the last minute to drop off their early ballots.
And that could swing the election to Republican Kari Lake.
As of Thursday evening, Democrat Katie Hobbs had a 26,879-vote lead out of more than 2 million ballots counted so far.
Only thing is, there are still about 500,000 ballots yet to be counted. And the biggest batch of those -- close to 290,000 in Maricopa County alone -- were those day-of dropoffs which are among the last to be tallied.
What makes that significant is that some Republicans actually urged their supporters to do just that.
That is based on baseless claims, going all the way back to the 2020 race, that election officials were monitoring the early votes as they came in to see how many fake ballots they would need to inject in the system to rig the results. The idea behind last-minute voting was to provide them with less time to do that.
But if GOP faithful followed through, a big chunk of those day-of dropoffs would skew to the benefit of Lake -- and, potentially, other Republican candidates whose vote tallies have been running behind those of Democrats.
"I think we all know how the majority of those people were going to vote,'' she said Thursday about those last-minute voters on the talk show run by conservative Charlie Kirk, predicting victory.
Lake did not accuse anyone of misconduct and trying to rig the final tallies. She said, though, there are reasons to raise questions about elections.
"They're not being run properly,'' Lake said.
"It's hurting our state, it's hurting our people, it's hurting the faith we have in our system,'' she said. "And we are going to reform it.''
In fact, she promised on her first day in office to call a special legislative session to make changes in election laws.
If nothing else, Lake said that the order in which results are released has been a conscious decision by election officials to "pour cold water on this movement'' and promote the idea trough a cooperative media that the "red wave'' that some Republicans including Donald Trump had forecast had fizzled.
Lake singled out Bill Gates, the chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, and County Recorder Stephen Richer for special criticism.
"They are controlling the narrative of election night in this great country and withholding and slow-rolling the results,'' she said. "I think it's despicable.''
But the way results are released hasn't been changed in years.
The first numbers -- the ones that are posted an hour after the polls close -- are ballots from people who mailed them in early enough so they could be processed and counted before Election Day. And the record has shown those early returns skew Democrat, even before the latest exhortations by some in the GOP to party faithful to wait until the last minute.
"I do not want the people of Maricopa County to think we're picking and choosing which ballots to tabulate,'' Gates said at a Thursday press conference at the county's election center, in front of the room where election workers are tabulating ballots. He said it's a simple procedure, akin to accounting: first in, first out.
That's what enabled the first results to show Hobbs with 56.7% of the vote, a figure that was at 50.7% by Thursday afternoon.
Ditto the strong lead on election night for Kris Mayes, the Democratic contender for attorney general. But on Thursday her lead over Abe Hamadeh was just 16,414 votes.
That's also true of state schools chief Kathy Hoffman. While the Democratic incumbent took the lead with the latest count, she is edging out Republican Tom Horne by fewer than 4,000 votes.
All three Democrats could find themselves swamped if what's left to be counted -- mostly those early ballots dropped off on election day -- break for their Republican foes by even 1 percentage point.
Other Republicans at the top of the ticket, however, would need a really strong GOP edge in the remaining votes to emerge successful.
Incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly was leading Republican Blake Masters by almost 115,000 votes on Thursday, with Democrat Adrian Fontes ahead of Mark Finchem by more than 109,000 in the race for secretary of state.
Those numbers also show that some people who voted for Lake and Hamadeh could not support Masters and Finchem.
What the vote totals mean is that something north of 57% of those ballots remaining to be counted, including those dropped off on Election Day, would need to include votes for Masters and Finchem for them to win.
At Thursday's press conference, Gates also lashed out at Lake's allegation that the county is purposely working to release numbers slowly.
"Kari Lake is saying that because because, frankly, she hasn't followed elections as much as I have for the past 20 years,'' he said, pointing out that before he was an elected official he was a lawyer for the Arizona Republican Party watching for days what was going on in close races.
"Quite frankly, it is offensive for Kari Lake to say that these people behind me are slow-rolling this when they're working 14 to 18 hours'' a day, Gates said.
Lake, however, said she is not satisfied with the way elections are being run.
"We will change the way the system works,'' Lake said. And she said she wants something like a task force "to investigate what went wrong.''
But then she wants systematic changes.
"I want one-day voting, frankly, to get as close to that as possible,'' she said.
"We vote for a whole month here and it's outrageous,'' Lake said. "We've got mail-in ballots floating around all over.''
But such a move could prove difficult to get approved, even assuming Republicans remain in control of the Legislature. That's because the system of no-excuse early voting, in place since the 1992 election, has proven wildly popular, amounting to close to 90% of the votes in 2022
Lake's criticism of the election system goes beyond what she believes is "slow rolling'' the results.
There also was the fact that some printers at 60 of Maricopa County's 223 polling places were not printing some ballots dark enough so that the scanners could accurate line them up to count the votes.
That resulted in about 17,000 voters instead having to drop their ballots into "door 3'' of the scanner to be counted later.
Voters with unreadable ballots also were given the option of going to another vote center. But Republican lawyers said that some people never got to vote at all because officials at the second site said the record showed they already had voted at the first one.
County officials eventually reset the settings on the printers. But the problem was not discovered until Election Day.
"We want to get to the bottom of how this happened so it never happens again,'' Lake said.
While Lake never specifically charged wrongdoing, that, however, wasn't the case with Trump. In a Twitter post Thursday, he chided election officials in Arizona who said they need at least until the end of the week to count ballots.
"They want more time to cheat!'' the former president said.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia