A tally conducted with only one ballot still pending showed that 19,807 Santa Cruz County residents voted in the 2020 general election – 3,018 more than during the 2016 presidential election.
The voter count came in a report published at 10:40 a.m. on Monday and indicated a turnout rate of 66.13 percent among the 29,951 eligible voters in the county.
That eclipsed the 63.8-percent participation rate in the November 2016 election, which had been the highest mark in recent memory in Santa Cruz County. That year, 16,769 of the county’s 26,276 eligible voters participated in the balloting.
Even so, Santa Cruz County’s voter turnout rate in the 2020 general election lagged the rest of the state by more than 12 percentage points. Arizona’s statewide participation rate was 78.37 percent as of Monday morning, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Local voting, like in much of the country, was dominated by early ballots. Of the total number of ballots counted in Santa Cruz County, 15,481 were early ballots, according to the Nov. 9 report. Another 4,326 were cast at polling places, including 113 provisional ballots.
The County Elections Office published six vote tallies between 8 p.m. on Election Night and 5 p.m. last Thursday. The sixth report, which included votes cast on 19,774 ballots, initially appeared to have included all ballots cast.
However, the County Recorder’s Office realized on Friday morning that early ballots deposited at several drop-off boxes had not been collected after the boxes were locked on Election Night.
A sweep of all seven ballot boxes stationed around the county later on Friday turned up a total of 34 uncollected ballots from four boxes, County Recorder Suzie Sainz said on Saturday evening.
One was an unsigned sample ballot and was rejected. But Recorder’s Office staff verified the signatures on the other 33 ballots and accepted them as valid, Sainz said.
The county then summoned its early voting board to reconvene on Monday morning to open and process the 33 uncounted ballots so they could be tabulated.
Sainz said the problem came to light when a staffer realized on Friday that she had forgotten to do a final Election Night ballot retrieval.
“We found some ballots at the Santa Cruz County Complex, and so then we started thinking that maybe some of the other ones hadn’t been picked up either,” Sainz said.
At that point, a team that included Sainz, one of her employees, the county’s civil attorney, and representatives from the local Democratic and Republican parties, went to check all seven early ballot drop-off boxes.
A staff member at the Recorder’s Office told the NI at around 9:15 a.m. on Friday that the office had no more ballots to count. She called back approximately two hours later to retract the statement, and said Sainz would reach out later to explain what had happened.
County Manager Jenifer St. John, who was the first county official to explain the situation when she spoke to the NI at noon on Saturday, said the uncollected early ballots were found in boxes in Tubac, Rio Rico and Patagonia, in addition to the box at the County Complex in Nogales.
Sainz confirmed that those were the affected boxes when she called at around 5 p.m. on Saturday.
St. John said locking the boxes and retrieving the ballots from inside were not part of the same process.
Because all ballot drop-off boxes had to be locked at 7 p.m. on Election Day, seven people were sent to the seven boxes to complete the task. However, in order to collect the ballots, two people from each political party had to be present. So instead of having seven collection teams retrieve the ballots, the plan was to lock all the boxes at once and then have a single collection team start in Sonoita and move westward.
Ballots were collected from the boxes earlier on Election Day, St. John said, so the ones discovered on Friday were dropped off at some point after the day’s initial pick-up, but before 7 p.m., on Nov. 3.
“We are absolutely sure that all seven ballot boxes were locked at 7,” St. John said.
Sainz agreed, saying: “I’m very confident that everybody that was assigned to those ballot boxes locked them at 7.”
None of the county or city-level elections on the general election ballot were close, so the votes on the 33 outstanding ballots won’t affect their outcome.
There was one additional early ballot that still hadn’t been verified and tabulated as of Monday, Sainz said. It had a mismatched signature and the person who it belongs to had until Tuesday to come in and verify it.
Sainz, a Democrat from Nogales, was re-elected to a seventh term as county recorder this week by a two-to-one margin over Independent David Alvarez.