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Provisional ballots leaning toward AZ pot measure

Maricopa County will count outstanding provisional ballots through the weekend if necessary despite a state law that generally says all vote tallying must be completed by Friday, officials said.

The votes could sway the outcome of a statewide medical marijuana initiative that is failing by a tiny margin of the 1.63 million votes counted since the Nov. 2 general election.

Votes posted Friday afternoon showed the measure trailing by just 724 votes.

All but a couple thousand of the approximately 59,000 outstanding ballots are in Maricopa County, officials said. The rest are in Gila, Yuma, Yavapai and Coconino counties, and should be counted by late Friday.

Provisional ballots counted on Thursday were leaning in favor of the measure, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell told The Associated Press on Friday. Such ballots tend to be dropped off on Election Day.

“Usually your more conservative people come early, and your Election Day vote is normally not as conservative,” Purcell said.

State law generally requires that signatures on provisional ballots be verified within 10 days of the election, but there appears to be wiggle room to allow the votes to be counted if that verification has been done, said Matthew Benson, spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Bennett.

All have been verified, Purcell said.

Maricopa County will be allowed to continuing counting for as long as it takes, Benson said.

“They have an exceptional amount of provisional ballots to deal with,” Benson said. “We sympathize with what they’re up against.”

“We’ve already advised them that we may not be finished today and they said OK,” Purcell said. “So, if I’m looking at that it probably would be a waiver.”

Maricopa County is focusing on counting the provisionals it has, about 41,000 as of Friday morning, Purcell said.

“We ran about 16,000 of them this morning, and will try — pardon my French — our damnedest to get those out today,” Purcell said. “But if we don’t, then I’m going to finish up the rest of them tomorrow. I’m not going to let people lose their vote. Not going to happen.”

Teams made up of members of the Republican and Democratic parties are overseeing elections workers tasked with reviewing about 14,000 outstanding early ballot. Those ballots have some problem that prevents a vote-count machine from tallying them, typically because a voter used a marker to fill in the oval and it bled through to the other side or otherwise is unreadable.

The teams are examining the ballots, determining voter intent and filling out new ballots that the machine can read, Purcell said.

The medical marijuana law was opposed by all 30 of Arizona’s county attorneys and sheriffs. The leader of a group opposed to the measure said she hopes their efforts paid off.

“We are hopeful that we reached enough voters with what this was really all about, and it was not about sick people,” Carolyn Short, chairwoman of Keep AZ Drug Free, the group that organized opposition to the initiative. “It was a backdoor route to legalization. It would make available marijuana to anybody anyone who wanted it, and not only that but it would also provide special protections to anyone who used marijuana pursuant to a marijuana card.”

Backers of Proposition 203 argued that thousands of patients faced “a terrible choice” of suffering with a serious or even terminal illness or going to the criminal market for pot. They collected more than 252,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot — nearly 100,000 more than required.

If the measure passes, it will allow patients with diseases including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and any other “chronic or debilitating” disease that meets guidelines to buy more 2½ ounces of marijuana every two weeks or grow plants.

The patients must get a recommendation from their doctor and register with the Arizona Department of Health Services. The law also allows for no more than 124 marijuana dispensaries in the state.

Evan Wyloge contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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