Gila County finally finished counting its 3,400 provisional ballots Thursday, but the late-breaking ballots didn’t change any results.
That means the election night winners in the three most closely contested races can all heave a sigh of relief — or maybe weariness — and rearrange their lives.
The winning margins in the Payson School Board, Northern Gila County Sanitary District and Gila County treasurer’s race all initially seemed close enough to change once the county elections department finished counting the roughly 17 percent of provisional and early ballots.
A third of those ballots were mail-in ballots voters
turned in at the polls on Election Day. Most of the rest were early ballots. The tally also included ballots set aside because of assorted problems, like a voter who showed up at the wrong polling place or without identification.
The final count boosted the turnout countywide to 68 percent, according to Linda Eastlick, who heads the county elections office. Statewide, turnout reached about 70 percent.
Democratic votes from southern Gila County helped former Flagstaff Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick regain her seat.
Statewide most of the races have now been settled, although the contest between Democrat Ron Barber and Republican Martha McSally continues to teeter. Barber has a 709-vote lead in his bid to replace retiring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt. If Barber does win, Democrats will end up with five of the state’s nine congressional seats.
The final turnout numbers in Gila County helped explain the strong showing by Republican candidates from the north, including assessor Deborah Hughes who unseated a Democratic incumbent and Adam Shepherd, who became the first Republican sheriff in years.
Most precincts in the north had significantly higher turnouts than in the south. That included Payson Precinct 3’s 82 percent and a whopping 84 percent in Whispering Pines. Star Valley had a 76 percent turnout, Pine/Strawberry East 80 percent and Pine-strawberry West 77 percent.
Only a couple of precincts in the Democratic bastions of Globe had turnouts that topped 70 percent. Most reported turnouts in the mid to low 60s. The precincts with many voters who live on the Apache reservations had turnouts of between 43 percent and 55 percent.
The county elections department and the county recorder’s office spent most of the week verifying signatures on the late-arriving mail-in ballots and check on the validity of the provisional ballots.
The recorder’s office ran the ballots through a machine to check for a match between the signature on the envelope and the signature on file. Once verified, the recorder’s office shipped the ballots to the elections office, where citizen workers counted them. Eastlick said the ballot-counters worked in pairs, always from different parties.
The ballot counters started in on early ballots on Oct. 22 and finally finished on Thursday.
“In larger counties, they have a tremendous amount of automation. That’s a discussion we’ll have to have. We count one ballot at time and it’s very, very time-consuming,” said Eastlick.
In the Payson School Board race for the three seats up for grabs, incumbent Barbara Underwood remained the top vote getter — with 4,169 votes — about 20 percent of the votes cast. Gila Community College English teacher James Quinlan still came in second, with 3,209 votes, about 15 percent of the votes cast. Tea Party activist Shirley Dye still came in third with 2,636 votes — about 12 percent of the votes cast.
With all the votes counted, laid off Payson social studies teacher Ron Silverman finished 194 votes behind Dye. He had 2,442 votes, about 11 percent of the votes cast.
The final flurry of votes also failed to change the mixed results of the Northern Gila County Sanitary District, where Dye once again surprised observers with her vote tally, validating the political clout of the Payson Tea Party.
Dye unseated an incumbent and drew significantly more votes than the two candidates that ran on a slate with her, sharing advertising and issues. In that race, the challengers focused mostly on the district’s building impact fees, insisting that the $5,400 fee to connect a new house to the sewer and much steeper fees for commercial businesses would depress growth.
In the race for the three Sanitary District seats, incumbent Patrick Underwood — Barbara Underwood’s husband — placed first with 2,733 votes — 18.63 of the total. Dye came in second with 2,713 votes — 18.5 percent of the vote. LaRon Garrett, one of the three appointed incumbents who defended the impact fees as necessary to expand the system without raising rates, came in third. Garrett, who is also Payson’s public works director, drew 2,246 votes — about 15.3 percent of the votes cast.
Challenger Gary Bedsworth finished just barely behind Garrett, with 2,116 votes — 14.4 percent of the votes cast.
The final tally also failed to make a change in the close race for county treasurer. Incumbent Deborah Savage pulled in 53 percent of the vote compared to the 47 percent gathered by Payson businessman, county planning commissioner and Republican Party chair Don Ascoli.