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

<i>Matt York/AP</i><br/>An election worker removes tabulated ballots from the machine inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office on November 10 in Phoenix.
Matt York/AP
An election worker removes tabulated ballots from the machine inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office on November 10 in Phoenix.

By Jeremy Herb and Paul LeBlanc, CNN

New batches of votes were reported Friday 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 potential bid to be the next speaker. And in the Senate, several Republicans, including Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley, are calling for a delay in next week’s Senate GOP leadership elections. While Mitch McConnell is widely expected to easily win the top Republican spot again, making him the longest Senate party leader in history, he faces some dissension in the ranks.

More votes are expected to be reported Friday evening as counting continues. Arizona’s most populous county, Maricopa, is planning to release on Friday evening around 10 p.m. ET — the first batch of results from the 290,000 mail-in ballots that voters dropped off on Election Day, a top county official told CNN. The partisan composition of those votes could determine who wins the state’s Senate and governor’s races.

Here’s what to know about where things stand:

What is taking so long to count ballots in key states?

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.

Arizona Assistant Secretary of State Allie Bones told CNN Friday that the majority of votes left to be tabulated in Arizona are in Maricopa and Pima counties, which are both historically Democratic strongholds.

Maricopa County is expected to report on approximately 80,000 ballots at 10p.m. ET Friday. After that, the county will have about 300,000 ballots left to count.

Included in both the Maricopa and Pima county releases Friday will be absentee ballots dropped off on Election Day, Bones added, acknowledging that the partisan lean of the absentee ballots dropped off on Election Day is the “big question before us right now.”

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.

More than half of the votes released Friday evening in Maricopa County will be absentee ballots that voters dropped off at polling places on Election Day — the first report to include ballots from this large batch.

The total will also include some of the 17,000 Election Day ballots that were not able to be read by tabulator machines due to technical issues that day, and the remainder of early votes the county received before Election Day.

Pima County, Arizona’s second-most populous and home to Tucson, is expected to have roughly 85,000 ballots left to count at the end of Friday, Constance Hargrove, elections director for the county, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and John King Friday.

Hargrove said the county had scanned 15,000 votes Friday and was planning to tabulate another 9,800.

She said she hopes by Monday that Pima County will have the majority of the remaining votes counted. She had previously told CNN that all the votes would be counted by Monday morning. However, on Friday night she clarified that would no longer be the case due to a large batch of around 80,000 votes they received from the recorder’s office earlier that day.

Pushing back on criticisms and conspiracies

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.

Asked by King to address claims of potential “hanky panky,” Hargrove reiterated that they are not “finding” votes, they are counting votes. Representatives from both parties are monitoring the process, she said.

Nevada mail-in ballots still arriving

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 Friday.

Gloria said Friday that the county expected to be largely finished with the remaining 34,130 mail-in votes by Saturday. Those ballots are being inspected at the county’s counting board, Gloria said, and some could also be reported Friday night.

More than 15,000 additional ballots could also eventually be counted if they meet eligibility requirements. Monday is the deadline for voters who need to contact the Clark County elections department to cure their ballots by providing additional details to verify their ballot. Gloria said 9,659 are eligible to be cured. Another 5,555 in-person provisional ballots could be added as well once they are validated.

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.

McCarthy’s rocky path

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.

House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry met with McCarthy in his office on Friday. He said later that the meeting “went well” but wouldn’t say if McCarthy has his — or the caucus’ — support for speaker.

“We’re having discussions,” Perry said as he left McCarthy’s office after a half-hour meeting.

Meanwhile, several Republican senators are calling for a delay in the Senate GOP leadership elections currently scheduled for Wednesday, November 16. Rubio and Hawley shared their views on Twitter. Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rick Scott of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah are also urging members of the GOP conference to postpone leadership elections, according to sources familiar with the matter, and are circulating a letter that underscores Senate Republicans’ frustration with the outcome of the 2022 elections.

Former President Donald Trump is calling up his allies in the Senate, GOP sources told CNN Friday, ginning up opposition for McConnell, while blaming the Senate minority leader — and not himself — for Republicans’ lackluster midterm performance.

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.

Jena Griswold, Colorado’s Democratic secretary of state, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Friday that it was still “too early to tell” whether the race would go to a recount, as the state has to certify the results first. Under Colorado law, a recount is triggered if the race is within 0.5%. It may also be conducted if a candidate chooses to pay for one.

“We are a couple weeks out from that determination,” Griswold said.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Josh Campbell, Chandelis Duster, Alli Gordon, Annie Grayer, Christina Maxouris, Ella Nilsen, Donie O’Sullivan, Manu Raju, Paul Vercammen and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.

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