PHOENIX — A "free speech zone" has been established near the Maricopa County Election Department, where election workers are busy counting the remaining ballots in the 2020 election, and where protesters, primarily supporters of President Donald Trump, gathered late Wednesday to demand a fair and legitimate count of the remaining ballots.
People are expected to gather again on Thursday evening, when Maricopa County is expected to release another batch of election results around 7 p.m. After that, the next update will not happen until 9 a.m. Friday, according to Recorder Adrian Fontes.
"The eyes of the nation are on Maricopa County and it is imperative that we balance the protection and well-being of our election workers and volunteers with the constitutional right of protesters who may wish to demonstrate outside the Elections Department," read a statement from the Maricopa County Elections Department's official Twitter account.
The eyes of the nation are on Maricopa County and it is imperative that we balance the protection and well-being of our election workers and volunteers with the constitutional right of protesters who may wish to demonstrate outside the Elections Department. Read more: pic.twitter.com/qdpAwIZ3n7— Maricopa County Elections Department (@MaricopaVote) November 5, 2020
"For that reason, we will be setting up a free speech zone tonight, in accordance with the law and in coordination with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, which will allow protesters the ability to be seen and heard while also ensuring that our Elections staff can do their jobs and leave the building without the threat of intimidation," the statement said.
Watch live video from the protest Thursday night below:
Photos from ABC15's Nicole Valdes showed part of the parking lot at the Maricopa County Elections Department fenced in with "freedom of speech zone" signs inside.
Alright, a much different scene outside @MaricopaVote after last night’s demonstration.— Nicole Valdes (@NicoleValdesTV) November 5, 2020
There are now fences surrounding a portion of the parking lot, a designed free speech zone. A sign that what we saw last night may continue. #ABC15 #Elections2020 pic.twitter.com/OLJMVTugta
On Wednesday evening, a large crowd of people gathered outside the Elections Department building. Supporters of Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump reportedly exchanged words earlier in the night, but by late evening, most of the crowd had political signs, shirts, and hats supporting President Trump. Some were armed.
The protest remained peaceful throughout the night and no arrests were made, according to a spokesperson for Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
Members of the crowd reportedly demanded that the ballots be counted, and chastised Fox News Channel for its early projection on Tuesday that Biden would win Arizona.
The Associated Press has also projected that Biden would win Arizona, but Gov. Doug Ducey and other Republican leaders cautioned that those projections were too early and asked people to wait until all the votes have been tallied. ABC News has not made a projection for Arizona and ABC15 News is not making election predictions, and instead relying on the AP.
There are an estimated 400,000 ballots left to be counted in Arizona, including 275,000 ballots in Maricopa County alone, the largest county in the state. Maricopa County is expected to release additional batches of voting results at 7 p.m. and then again at 9 a.m. on Friday.
Late Wednesday and early Thursday, Maricopa County released two batches of election results, which narrowed the lead between Biden and Trump.
Currently, Biden leads Trump, 50% to 48%, with less than 68,000 ballots separating them.
You can view the latest election results at abc15.com/results.