PHOENIX – For Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally, Tuesday night was supposed to mark the end of a hard-fought battle that tested vastly different visions for the nation.
But as Election Day came to an end, the race for Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat ended exactly how it has played out over the past few weeks: too close to call with unofficial statewide results Wednesday morning at 49 percent for McSally, 48 percent for Sinema and 2 percent for Angela Green, the Green Party candidate.
An official victor may not be known for days – and maybe longer if the final tally triggers a recount or legal challenge, experts said. As Tuesday night ticked toward Wednesday morning, the lack of an outcome began to settle in.
Senate races in Florida and Montana also were tight and too close to call, according to election results in those states.
Recorder’s Office officials in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous county, received data from polling locations well into the night, spokeswoman Murphy Hebert said. The system was being updated as ballots were processed, she said.
The data reflect in-person votes cast on Election Day. The office then starts processing the “late early ballots,” which include those dropped off at polling places on Election Day.
“That’s going to take days,” Hebert said.
She said the recorder will not update results Wednesday because of the lengthy signature-verification process. The next scheduled update is at 5 p.m. Thursday and then every day at 5 p.m. until the office is done counting ballots.
If the results remain super close between the congresswomen, lawyers for the Democratic and Republican parties almost certainly will swarm the offices of county recorders Wednesday morning, seeking to watch their processes, said Eric Spencer, the state elections director.
He is familiar with the post-Election Day playbook from his days in private practice when he represented candidates and political parties. No matter how well or how poorly an election is conducted, either side may make claims to take their case to court, he said.
“There are going to be very sophisticated operations of monitoring and reporting that stuff back to the parties,” he said. “And it’s inevitable there will be some sort of lawsuit filed during the process.”
Word of a prolonged decision disappointed voters such as Rosa Sandoval, who stood at a tabletop in the ballroom of the Democratic election night party looking glum.
She drove about 40 miles into Phoenix from Queen Creek hoping to celebrate a Democratic Senate win.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” said Sandoval, who works at an equine hospital. “I’m optimistic. I really think Sinema is going to win.”