Set­tle­ment reached in tight Ariz. Se­nate vote count

Santa Fe New Mexican - - LOCAL & REGION - By Bob Christie and Ni­cholas Ric­cardi

PHOENIX — Ari­zona Repub­li­cans who had al­leged the state’s two big­gest coun­ties were il­le­gally count­ing some bal­lots changed course Fri­day and agreed to set­tle their law­suit if ru­ral vot­ers also get an ex­tra chance to fix prob­lems with bal­lots cast in the state’s tight U.S. Se­nate race.

The set­tle­ment was tech­ni­cally be­tween Repub­li­cans and the state’s county recorders, but Democrats and civil rights groups who had jumped into the fray agreed to it as it was an­nounced in a Phoenix court­room Fri­day af­ter­noon. Ari­zona’s 15 coun­ties now have un­til Nov. 14 to ad­dress the is­sue, which state Elec­tions Di­rec­tor Eric Spencer said likely af­fects less than 10,000 votes out of more than 2.3 mil­lion cast statewide.

The Repub­li­can law­suit said the state’s county recorders don’t fol­low a uni­form stan­dard for al­low­ing vot­ers to ad­dress prob­lems with the sig­na­tures on their mail-in bal­lots, and that Mari­copa and Pima coun­ties im­prop­erly al­low the fixes for up to five days af­ter Elec­tion Day.

The law­suit set­tle­ment in a court­room packed with more than a dozen lawyers and a host of re­porters came a day af­ter Demo­crat Kyrsten Sinema jumped into a slight lead over Repub­li­can Martha McSally in the midst of the slow vote count.

Even as the Repub­li­can at­tor­neys pur­sued a deal that would let con­ser­va­tive­lean­ing coun­ties match sig­na­tures like the two ur­ban ones, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump seemed to at­tack the way Mari­copa and Pima coun­ties op­er­ated on Twit­ter. “In Ari­zona, SIG­NA­TURES DON’T MATCH,” Trump tweeted. “Elec­toral cor­rup­tion - Call for a new Elec­tion?”

Four lo­cal Repub­li­can par­ties filed the law­suit Wed­nes­day night chal­leng­ing the two large coun­ties’ prac­tice of reach­ing out to vot­ers af­ter Elec­tion Day. If the sig­na­ture on the voter regis­tra­tion doesn’t match that on the sealed en­ve­lope, both Mari­copa and Pima County al­low vot­ers to help them fix, or “cure” it, up to five days af­ter Elec­tion Day.

Many other coun­ties only al­low vot­ers to cure un­til polls close on Elec­tion Day. Now, all will fol­low the stan­dard set by Mari­copa, Pima and two other ru­ral coun­ties that al­low for post-Elec­tion Day cures.

A Mari­copa County of­fi­cial said Thurs­day that only about 5,600 bal­lots were af­fected in her county and the rate is sim­i­lar in the 14 smaller coun­ties. Spencer said that means less than 10,000 in all.

The bot­tom line for Repub­li­cans was to en­sure that coun­ties with high GOP regis­tra­tion had a change to bal­ance those with high or close Demo­cratic sup­port.

“This is a re­ally great day for us,” state GOP at­tor­ney Kory Langhofer said. “The ru­ral coun­ties who were not go­ing to be count­ing Repub­li­can votes on the same terms as the Demo­cratic coun­ties, they got caught with their pants down. When they’ve got to show up in court and ex­plain to the judge what they’re do­ing they gave us ev­ery­thing we were ask­ing for.”

Grant Woods, a for­mer Repub­li­can state at­tor­ney gen­eral who now backs Sinema, crit­i­cized the Repub­li­cans for “mon­key­ing with the process” now that their can­di­date is be­hind in the vote.

“If they lose the race they should just take their lumps and field a bet­ter can­di­date next time,’ he said.

The po­lit­i­cal over­tones of the law­suit were un­mis­tak­able. On Thurs­day, Sinema jumped into a mi­nus­cule lead of about 9,000 out of 1.9 mil­lion votes counted af­ter trail­ing since Tues­day. Her lead came from the two coun­ties sin­gled out by Repub­li­cans in their law­suit, Mari­copa and Pima coun­ties.

On Fri­day, Repub­li­cans es­ca­lated their at­tacks on Democrats, claim­ing they were try­ing to dis­en­fran­chise ru­ral vot­ers — even though Democrats had lit­tle do with how the ru­ral coun­ties chose to count bal­lots. Those coun­ties are pre­dom­i­nantly run by Repub­li­cans. Democrats, in turn, said the GOP was try­ing to nul­lify cast bal­lots.

The race re­mained too close to call Fri­day with more than 400,000 bal­lots still un­counted. Mari­copa County Recorder Adrian Fontes said count­ing may con­tinue un­til Nov. 15. “We know there’s ur­gency out there, but we want to get it right, not quick,” he said.

Ari­zona is no­to­ri­ously slow at tal­ly­ing bal­lots even though about 75 per­cent of votes are cast by mail. Each of those bal­lots must go through a la­bo­ri­ous ver­i­fi­ca­tion process.

ROSS D. FRANKLIN/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Work­ers at the Mari­copa County Recorder’s Of­fice go through bal­lots Thurs­day in Phoenix. There are sev­eral races too close to call in Ari­zona, es­pe­cially the Se­nate race be­tween Demo­cratic can­di­date Kyrsten Sinema and Repub­li­can can­di­date Martha McSally.

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