States are counting votes with key races still in play. Here’s what to know


New batches of votes were reported late Thursday evening in Arizona and Nevada – states with key races that will determine control of the Senate – but it’s still not clear when enough of the outstanding hundreds of thousands of ballots will be counted to call the Senate and gubernatorial contests in those states.

Control of the House is also still in the balance as ballots are counted in states such as California. Republicans appear to be inching toward a majority, though they have not yet secured enough wins to take control as more than two dozen congressional races remain uncalled. The closer-than-expected contest for the House has added serious complications to GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid to be the next speaker.

Arizona’s most populous county, Maricopa, is expected to begin reporting votes from the critical batch of roughly 290,000 early ballots turned in on Election Day – and the partisan composition of those votes could determine who wins the state’s Senate and governor’s races.

More votes are expected to be reported on Friday as counting continues. Here’s what to know about where things stand:

The biggest reason the vote counting is taking so long is the way that each state handles the ballots outside of those cast at polling places on Election Day, including both early votes and mail-in ballots.

When races are within a percentage point or two, those outstanding ballots are enough to keep the election from being projected. Of course, the lag was anticipated – it took news organizations until the Saturday after Election Day in 2020 to declare Joe Biden the winner in the presidential race, following a massive increase in mail-in voting amid the pandemic.

In Arizona, CNN and other news networks have yet to call the Senate race between Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly and Republican challenger Blake Masters, or the governor’s race between Democrat Katie Hobbs and Republican Kari Lake.

The CNN Decision Desk estimated there are roughly 540,000 ballots still to be counted, as of late Thursday evening. The majority of those, about 350,000 ballots, are in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix.

The biggest chunk of uncounted ballots, about 290,000, are votes that were dropped off at vote centers on Election Day. A top official told CNN late Thursday that Maricopa County expects to start releasing the first results from those outstanding ballots Friday evening.

“We should start to see those tomorrow, I believe – we’ll start seeing those come in,” said Bill Gates, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Those ballots could be key in determining who will win the statewide races for governor and Senate. The mail-in ballots reported so far in Arizona lean heavily Democratic while Election Day ballots strongly favor Republicans – but it’s still too early to know which way the mail-in ballots turned in on Election Day will fall.

In addition, Maricopa County has about 17,000 ballots that were not read by the tabulator on Election Day because of a printer error, and those ballots still need to be counted, too.

Maricopa County updated an additional tranche of just over 78,000 ballots on Thursday night.

In Pima County, Arizona’s second-most populous and home to Tucson, a new batch of 20,000 ballots was reported Thursday evening. Elections Director Constance Hargrove told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and John King that the county has been able to report batches of approximately 20,000 ballots per day, and anticipated another ballot drop of 20,000 on Friday.

“We will be working through the weekend and get through most of those ballots – not all of those ballots – probably by no later than Monday morning,” Hargrove said.

The delay in calling the races in Arizona have prompted criticisms and conspiracies – some of which are reminiscent of the wild and baseless allegations that were made in the state after the 2020 election, such as false claims about felt-tipped Sharpies.

Elections officials in Maricopa County debunked false claims circulating on right-wing social media suggesting that a woman wearing glasses in the county’s counting facility livestream was Hobbs, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee and current secretary of state.

“Not every woman with glasses is Katie Hobbs,” the official Twitter account of Maricopa County tweeted in response Thursday evening. “We can confirm this was a party Observer. Please refrain from making assumptions about workers who happen to wear glasses.”

Lake, the GOP gubernatorial nominee who has embraced former President Donald Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen, said on Charlie Kirk’s right-wing talk show Thursday, “I hate that they’re slow-rolling and dragging their feet and delaying the inevitable. They don’t want to put out the truth, which is that we won.” There is no evidence that the election officials were deliberately delaying the reporting of results.

At a news conference Thursday, Gates said, “Quite frankly, it is offensive for Kari Lake to say that these people behind me are slow-rolling this when they are working 14-18 hours.”

Gates explained why it takes longer for Arizona to count ballots than states such as Florida, which reported most of its results on election night. He pointed out that Florida does not allow for mail-in ballots to be dropped off on Election Day, while Arizona does. This slows down the process because the hundreds of thousands of ballots need to be processed and go through signature verification before they can be counted.

Florida also closes early voting the Sunday before Election Day, while ballots can be dropped off through Election Day in Arizona.

“We have so many close races that everyone is still paying attention to Maricopa County. Those other states like Florida, those races were blowouts. Nobody is paying attention anymore,” Gates said.

In Nevada, the CNN Decision Desk estimated there were about 95,000 votes outstanding as of Thursday evening.

In Clark County, the state’s largest, which includes Las Vegas, there are more than 50,000 ballots still to be counted, Clark County registrar Joe Gloria said Thursday.

Nevada state law allows mail-in ballots to be received through Saturday, as long as they were postmarked by Election Day, meaning counties are still receiving ballots to be counted. But many ballots now arriving are being disqualified because they were postmarked after Election Day.

Jamie Rodriguez, interim registrar of votes for Washoe County, said the county disqualified 400 mail-in ballots on Thursday – about two-thirds of the mail-in ballots the county received – because they were postmarked late.

Washoe County, which includes Reno, still has about 22,000 ballots left to count, Rodriguez said, and the county expects to get through most of them on Friday.

Clark County added around 12,000 votes on Thursday night. The county says it will provide an update Friday on its remaining ballots to count.

Key races in the Silver State, including the Senate contest between Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican challenger Adam Laxalt and the governor’s race between Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and Republican Joe Lombardo, have not been called as of Friday morning.

Control of the Senate – which will come down to Nevada, Arizona and possibly the December runoff in Georgia – was expected to be a toss-up going into Election Day. Republicans, however, anticipated winning the House, though the closer-than-expected contest for control of the chamber has made McCarthy’s quest for the speakership more difficult, even if Republicans do end up winning the majority.

Members of the pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus are withholding their support for McCarthy’s speakership bid and have begun to lay out their list of demands, CNN’s Melanie Zanona and Manu Raju report, putting the California Republican’s path to securing 218 votes in peril if the party ultimately takes the House with a slim majority.

McCarthy and his team are confident he will get the votes to be speaker. But conservative hard-liners are emboldened by the likelihood of a narrow House GOP majority and are threatening to force him to make deals to weaken the speakership, which he has long resisted.

The ultimate makeup of the House is important for McCarthy because of the way the chamber elects a speaker: It requires a majority of the full House, or 218 votes, not just a majority of the party in control. If Republicans take power with a double-digit majority, McCarthy could afford to lose a few defectors. But a slim majority gives single members – and the Freedom Caucus – more power to make demands and threaten to withhold support.

Many key House races have yet to be called, and some remain razor-thin and could head into recounts. One such race is in Colorado, where GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert was ahead by just 1,122 votes as of 9 a.m. ET Friday. Votes are still being counted in the district.

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