PHOENIX — While we may see results starts to roll in on election night, the numbers reported will be far from what we'll see in the days to come.
Many polls and media outlets tend to predict winners early on, for contests that aren't too close to call, but that doesn't mean all votes have been counted.
"We don’t just want to be fast; we want to be accurate," said Jennifer Marson, Executive Director of the Arizona Association of counties, that assists our state's fifteen counties in planning for every election.
"The only numbers that are in those results are the early ballot in tabulated of the previous two weeks. That’s it," she added. "Anyone who voted at the polling place, you’re not in that count. Anyone who voted provisionally, you’re not in that count, anyone who dropped off a ballot on election day, you are not in that number."
Counties in Arizona have new methods to try and speed up the process of counting votes. In 2019, election leaders pushed legislation, later passed, to allow county election officials to start county early ballots as early as 14 days before election day.
“I think the one week extra is going to be huge for counties," said Marson." Having an extra week to count as many of the earliest as possible that have come in, that’s just more that you don’t have to do after the fact. So, your numbers on election night are probably larger.”
Early ballots, and absentee ballots, require extra steps to tabulate, according to Marson. Election officials need to verify signatures on envelopes, before getting those ballots into tabulators.
However, one hope, is that 2020 will see less provisional ballots that need to be counted on or after election day.
Poll workers, by law, must provide every voter who heads to the polls to vote a ballot. Those that records show may have already received a ballot by mail, will be given a provisional ballot. It's up to each county's elections department to determine if a voter already cast their ballot before filing one out at the polls. That takes up more time that will impact how soon the results will be reported.
New technology at the polls this year should make it easier for poll workers to determine if a voter already received an early ballot, and if it's been sent back or tabulated by their county's elections department.
“They’re not voting twice," said Marson. "“Whichever vote's in first is the one that counts... If they show up at the polling place on election day, they can vote will be called live ballot. A ballot that day, and then when we come across their early ballot if they had already mailed it in, we simply won’t even touch it.”
In Maricopa County, the elections department invested in new tabulation machines for the 2020 election. The previous tabulators hadn't been updated since the late 1990s. Now, the county will be able to count between six to eight thousand early ballots an hour, compared to the old systems ability to count about three-thousand ballots an hour.
According to Maricopa County, that already helped them set a record for reporting results during the 2020 primary election.
"Counties are doing the best they can to get the results as fast as they can," explained Marson. "Accuracy is more important than speed especially when we’re talking about pivotal elections."