Following several close contests and two weeks of counting, Secretary Ken Bennett and other state officials today signed the official canvass and certified last month’s election results.
The move effectively ended the 2012 campaign cycle and heralded the start of the new one.
It had been a grueling campaign cycle that saw an unprecedented amount of money spent on legislative races. Three Congressional races took several days after Election Day to be settled. When the counting ended, Democrats had gained seats at the Capitol, both in Phoenix and in Washington, D.C., but Republicans retained a solid majority in the state Legislature.
While more than 2.3 million Arizonans flocked to the polls, the turnout was still a few points shy of the rate of voters who participated in 2008.
Bennett surmised that the unique circumstances in the last presidential election led to that year’s higher turnout.
U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona was the Republican Party’s standard bearer four years ago, and then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s first run for the White House also generated excitement among the electorate.
Despite the lower rate of turnout, about 3,000 more voters in Arizona cast a ballot this year when compared to the last presidential election. Bennett was quick to point out that the 74.36 voter turnout in Arizona is much better than the national average.
Bennett, who was joined today by Arizona Supreme Court Justice Rebecca White Berch and Attorney General Tom Horne, noted that early ballots are becoming more popular among voters.
About 1.7 million early ballots were requested this year — several hundreds of thousands more than in 2008.
It was Arizona’s first election after legislative and Congressional districts were redrawn, and the impact of the redistricting process was apparent.
Indeed, as the Arizona Capitol Times reported, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s assumptions about how Congressional and legislative districts would perform were mostly spot on.
Among the eight congressional races that had a candidate from the two major parties, most of the predictions were within 5 percentage points of the results.
Meanwhile, the legislative races turned out within a few points of predictions, though the Commission’s assumptions slightly underestimated how Democrats would perform.
For example, in the fight over the Senate seat representing new Legislative District 26, Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, beat Sen. Jerry Lewis, R-Mesa, by 13.7 points — only one-tenth of 1 percent away from the 13.6-point projected Democratic edge.
Next year, Democrats will comprise the majority in Arizona’s Congressional delegation by a margin of 5-4.
Democrats also gained several seats in the Legislature, and while those gains were insufficient to overturn the Republican majority, the G.O.P. lost its supermajority control of both the House and the Senate.
But while election officials insisted that the pace of the counting was no more extraordinary than in 2008, the closeness of some races led to a sense that it was much slower.
Bennett said that’s not the case.
“There was a perception that the counties took much longer this time to do what has to be done after the election is held than what happened in 2008. That is, in fact, a misperception,” Bennett said.
The secretary of state, who is acting as governor because Gov. Jan Brewer is out of state, commended the counties. He said they did more work as the number of provisional ballots increased, yet counted the ballots more quickly than four years ago.
It took the election officials 15 days to complete the tally in the last presidential election. Bennett said it only took 14 days this year.
But Bennett agreed that this year’s counting made election officials consider ways to improve not only the pace of the count but also to educate voters about what they can do to help.
For example, half of the provisional ballots were actually early ballots that were dropped in precincts on Election Day instead of being mailed early, which meant they have to be cross checked and verified,
Bennett and other election officials will meet this week to discuss possible ways to improve Arizona’s elections, but the Secretary of State said the primary goal is not speed but accuracy in the count.
State law requires the chief justice, the governor and the attorney general to join the secretary of state in completing the canvass on the fourth Monday following the general election.
Brewer’s office notified Bennett last week she couldn’t make it to today’s canvass, saying the governor is out of state on official business.
2012 Arizona eligible voters: 3,124,712
2012 ballots cast: 2,323,579
2012 turnout: 74.36
2012 early ballots requested: 1.7 million
2008 ballots cast: 2,320,851
2008 turnout: 77.69