PHOENIX – After moving to the Phoenix area, the Bustamante family made sure to reregister under their new Maricopa County address. Mom registered as a libertarian, dad as a democrat and the couple’s 18-year-old son as an independent.
Come Election Day, the family found their experiences at the polling booth were as divergent as their political leanings.
“I heard some stuff on the news that said maybe us Latinos didn’t understand the ballots or maybe we didn’t understand how to vote,” said Daniel Bustamante, 41. “I’ve been voting since I turned 18, so I definitely understand what it takes to vote,” he added.
Bustamante arrived at his local polling station last Tuesday with an early ballot, his ID and a voter registration card, all of which should have allowed him to cast his vote then and there. Instead, he was asked to submit a provisional ballot.
His wife, Maria, did not bring her early ballot, but was nevertheless allowed to cast a regular ballot, while their son never received his ballot in the mail and so, like his father, was forced to vote provisionally.
“I believe there was something done to maybe regulate the outcome,” said Bustamante.
Such suspicions are part of what is fueling a growing chorus of Latino voters calling for a federal investigation into irregularities ranging from failure to receive early ballots to numerous cases of eligible voters, like the Bustamantes, who were forced to vote provisionally.
They are also casting a shadow over results in local elections, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio eked out a narrow victory in a bitter recall effort spearheaded by Latino advocacy groups. Arpaio first gained attention for what many called a racially biased policy targeting Hispanics in his effort to crack down on illegal immigration.
To date over 250,000 provisional and early ballots remain uncounted in the county. Arpaio beat out his Democratic challenger, Paul Penzone, by just 80,000 votes.
For his part, Bustamante said he can’t be sure whether his own vote and that of his son’s has been counted yet. Neither supported Arpaio.
Voter mobilization groups and civil rights activists behind the recall campaign say they have been receiving similar complaints from Latino voters across the county. Together the groups registered over 34,000 new Latino voters in Maricopa.
A report by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) projects Latino voter turnout in the state could hit record numbers, possibly reaching 359,000, up from about 291,000 in 2008. A final tally won’t be possible until all votes are counted.
Daria Ovide, spokesman for the Campaign for Arizona’s Future, which advocates on behalf of the state’s hotel workers, said her group has already reached out to the Voting Rights Division in the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Joined by Citizens for a Better Arizona (CBA) and Promise Arizona, volunteers from the campaign are staging a 24-hour-vigil in protest outside the Maricopa County Recorders Office. “Adios Arpaio,” the name of the recall campaign, is emblazoned across their tee shirts.
Ovide said there is growing concern over the number of reports coming from voters who say they experienced problems at the polls. Over the weekend, her campaign made about 4,000 phone calls, reaching anywhere between 500 to 600 Latino voters to survey their experience. By Wednesday, they expect to make 20,000 phone calls.
Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, meanwhile, has said that all votes will be counted. Her office has provided a series of daily updates on the count. As of Sunday, there were 140,000 early ballots and 122,000 provisional ballots yet to be counted -- the later figure has grown from the original count on election night.
“We know they’re counting the ballots,” said Ovide. “We don’t know yet whether the issue is disproportionately affecting Latinos.”
Ovide said hers and other groups want an investigation to figure out how it was that so many were made to vote provisionally or never received their early ballots, to determine whether election reform is needed.
It’s an issue that Democratic House Minority Leader Chad Campbell has already taken up. He is among a small coterie of lawmakers calling on the creation of a bi-partisan committee to investigate allegations of voting irregularities.
“In light of the hundreds of thousands of ballots that have yet to be counted, the apparent increase in the number of provisional ballots this election year, and the statewide irregularities that have been reported by voters, I am calling on Arizona’s leaders to conduct a bipartisan investigation of the 2012 general election,” said Campbell in a written statement. “We must determine the cause of the problems and identify ways to correct them before the next election.”
On election night, activists sounded the alarm that there were still close to half a million ballots that had not been counted and that could potentially change the outcome of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s race, as well as the Senate race between Democrat Richard Carmona and Republican Jeff Flake.
Penzone conceded on election night, giving the 80-year-old Arpaio a sixth term as sheriff.
The following day the Maricopa County Recorders Office and the Secretary of
State acknowledged there were still 600,000 ballots to be counted statewide, two thirds of them from Maricopa County. The numbers exceeded expectations from election authorities based on previous elections.
Still, Ovide said she doesn’t expect the results in the sheriff’s election to change. As for Monday mid-afternoon, Arpaio had 52 percent of the vote, followed by Penzone with 44 percent and the Independent candidate Michael Stauffer with 4 percent.
“Looks like sheriff Joe won again,” said Ovide, who added, “He obviously knows that he didn’t win by much.”
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