Southern Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District provided one of the biggest surprises of Election Night, and the following days, as the lead for Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Barber and Republican challenger Martha McSally went back and forth with razor thin margins.
The race was still too close to call as of Nov. 8, and probably will not be officially decided until every vote is counted, which county officials hope to do by Nov. 16.
“We’ll continue to watch the results over the next few days, and whatever happens, we will trust the people of southern Arizona — as I always have and always will,” Barber said in a statement.
“This kind of reminds me of the Notre Dame football game last weekend,” McSally said at a press conference in Tucson on Nov. 7.
“We’re in third overtime and trying to see how it is all going to finish out. We’re in a good position, we have a good lead, and there’s a process (of counting ballots) that’s going to play out.”
Neither campaign returned phone calls from the Arizona Capitol Times on Election Night and the day after.
Barber took an early lead as early ballots were counted. But by the end of the night, McSally pulled ahead, gaining a big boost from her overwhelming win in Cochise County, which makes up 18 percent of the voters in the district.
When vote counters quit their work on Election Night, McSally was pulling a surprise upset over Barber by more than 1,300 votes.
But the next day, as counting continued for the more than 80,000 provisional ballots and early ballots returned in Pima County on Election Day, Barber was making a comeback.
By the morning of Nov. 8, Barber was trailing by only 426 votes. Later in the day, Barber took a lead of 582 votes. As of press time, however, McSally had pulled back into the lead by 81 votes.
Of the remaining 80,000 uncounted ballots in Pima County, the majority of them are in CD2, which takes up more than
60 percent of the voting age population of the county. Almost 55,000 of the uncounted ballots are early ballots that were dropped off on Election Day or sent in the mail and arrived on Election Day, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.
Barber won 53 percent of the early ballot votes that have been counted so far, and early ballots in general tend to favor Democrats because the Democratic Party has orchestrated a big push to get their supporters to sign up for the permanent early voter list.
The more than 26,000 remaining uncounted ballots are provisional ballots cast on Election Day. McSally made up for her losses in early ballots by winning overwhelmingly on Election Day votes — by a margin of 55 percent to Barber’s
But some political consultants say provisional ballots won’t necessarily keep the same trend as the ballots cast on the day of the election.
For starters, many of the provisional ballots are because people on the permanent early voter list didn’t return their ballot, and instead opted to vote at the polling place, said election law attorney and council for the Democratic Party Jim Barton.
Democrats tend to be lower propensity voters in Arizona, and are more likely to get put on a suspense list until their eligibility is verified, which would force them to vote a provisional ballot, Barton said. There are several voter outreach groups that are trying to get low propensity voters, lower income voters to the polls, and many of those voters will have to cast a provisional ballot, he said.
“I’m not sure what good it is to try to see the future — we’ll know when the numbers come out — but I think the Barber campaign has reason to be cautiously optimistic,” Barton said. “I think with the number of ballots we have out and only needing to make up like 500 votes, I think there’s good reason for the Barber campaign to be optimistic.”
If voters use a provisional ballot from a polling place that is not their own, it is not counted. Typically 75 to 85 percent of provisional ballots are deemed valid, according to the Pima County Recorder’s Office.
Barber was elected in June to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the old CD8 after the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting that injured Giffords and Barber along with 11 others and left six dead. Before that, he worked as Giffords’ district director. Giffords resigned from Congress in January to focus on recovering from a gunshot to the head.
McSally is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination in the special election to replace Giffords, before winning the GOP nomination to take on Barber.