ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In Arizona, officials have spent the last week counting votes, and tonight we have some news. The Associated Press projects that Democrat Kyrsten Sinema defeat her Republican opponent, Martha McSally. McSally has conceded and congratulated her opponent. That flips the seat held by retiring Republican Jeff Flake. Sinema is the first Democrat Arizona has elected to the U.S. Senate since 1988.
Bret Jaspers of member station KJZZ in Phoenix has been following the race and joins us with the latest. Hi, Bret.
BRET JASPERS, BYLINE: Hey.
SHAPIRO: I know this news has just come out. What's the reaction been like so far after this nearly a week of nail biting?
JASPERS: Well, the Democrats were getting increasingly confident each day and especially earlier today at around 5 o'clock Arizona time when we got the latest round of ballot counting from Maricopa County where Phoenix is. People were feeling pretty excited on the Democratic side. So, you know, the reaction is surely, you know, elation. You know, Sinema is set to speak here in about 15 minutes or so. So we you'll probably see a lot of release after a tense week.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. At the end of Tuesday night, the Republican, McSally, was in the lead. So explain how the Democrat, Sinema, passed her in the vote count over the last several days.
JASPERS: Well, Arizona has early ballots and early mail-in ballots. And it also has in-person ballots. And what a lot of people do is they take their early ballot that they've been holding onto for a couple weeks, and they come out and drop it off at the ballot box on Tuesday. So they have all these dropped-off ballots that are in envelopes that need to get signatures verified.
And that, you know, in Maricopa anyway, is 168,000 ballots - takes a long time to open the envelope, verify the signature, you know, scan those ballots. So it just takes a long time because they get a huge dump right on Election Day. They have to be kind of counted in this more meticulous process. And so over time, you know, more Democratic votes were counted, and that's how Sinema passed McSally.
SHAPIRO: Right. Arizona has not elected a Democrat to any statewide office in a decade - as we said, not to the Senate since 1988. The seat had belonged to Republican Jeff Flake. So how big a deal is this in the state? Is this, like, a long-term realignment or kind of an outlier?
JASPERS: Well, it definitely will show Democrats a way to victory, I think. I mean, it is certainly a very big deal, and Sinema ran a very moderate, centrist campaign. She didn't mention her party very often. She talked about being an independent voice for Arizonans. So as a model of how to run in Arizona, she definitely demonstrated that. And she also, you know, had a lot of money and a lot of allies that were running ads on her behalf. So, you know, I think maybe we'll see more moderate Democratic candidates, like, trying to use that same strategy.
SHAPIRO: And just in our last 30 seconds, in Florida, we've seen claims without evidence of voter fraud. There have been lawsuits - anything like that in Arizona, or is this pretty much resolved and over?
JASPERS: Well, the Republican Party people here, the Arizona state Republican Party and some of the county Republican parties have been heavily criticizing the main election official in Maricopa County, who is an elected Democrat, and kind of trying to question his motives and question his ability to run the election. I mean, that - with major Republican figures like Governor Doug Doocy and McSally, they haven't fanned those flames that much, so it seems like this is - kind of puts a bow on the election.
SHAPIRO: All right, Bret Jaspers of KJZZ in Phoenix, thanks very much.
JASPERS: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.