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Arizona Republicans sue county recorders over ballots

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — Republicans filed a lawsuit Wednesday night to challenge the way some Arizona counties count mail-in ballots as election officials began to slowly tally more than 600,000 outstanding votes in the narrow U.S. Senate race — a task that could take days.

Republican Rep. Martha McSally and Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema were separated by a small fraction of the 1.7 million tabulated votes.

About 75 percent of Arizona voters cast ballots by mail, but those ballots have to go through the laborious signature confirmation process, and only then can be opened and tabulated. If county recorders have issues verifying signatures they are allowed to ask voters to verify their identity.

The suit filed by four county Republican parties — Maricopa, Apache, Navajo and Yuma counties — alleges that the state’s 15 county recorders don’t follow a uniform standard for allowing voters to adjust problems with their mail-in ballots, and that two counties improperly allow those fixes after Election Day.

A judge set a hearing for late Thursday morning.

Maricopa County Republican Party Chairman Chris Herring told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes on Thursday that the county is not suing to stop the counting of ballots, but is suing for equal protection for all voters under the 14th Amendment.

“You can’t give one American one set of rules for voting and another person another set of rules in the same jurisdiction,” he said.

“That’s what is happening in Arizona.”

Herring said officials are arguing that one policy needs to be enacted throughout the state.

“If that, according to the lawyers, is equal protection, it would be more fair and more correct than different processes based on different counties,” he said.

Election officials have been slowly counting more than 600,000 outstanding votes in the narrow U.S. Senate race between McSally and Sinema.

McSally led with 49.37 percent of the votes to Sinema’s 48.39 percent, but trailed Sinema by a few thousand votes in Maricopa and Pima counties.

The Maricopa County Elections Department said in a statement there were approximately 472,000 ballots left to process and estimated about 195,000 of these are early ballots, provisional and out-of-precinct ballots that voters cast or dropped off on Election Day.

Another 227,000 early ballots that the Elections Department received before Nov. 6 must also be tabulated.

Officials have said it could take up to eight more days to finish tallying the votes. The lawsuit could push the end date even farther out.

“The county elections departments are all hands on deck right now with all of their staff resources, so any sort of lawsuit, or anything that might change where resources are allocated, is unfortunately, going slow down the process,” Garrett Archer, senior analyst with the Arizona Secretary of State’s office, told  Arizona’s Morning News on Thursday.

The lawsuit was scheduled to be heard Friday after the next release of tallied ballots.

Court documents, in part, read:

By implementing and enforcing disparate deadlines by which Arizona voters may rehabilitate an early ballot deemed facially deficient, the State’s 15 County Recorders (the “County Recorders” or “Defendants”) are undermining the constitutional guarantee that all Arizonans are entitled to cast a ballot on equal terms, irrespective of their geographic location within the state. This Court should require all County Recorders to enforce an equivalent deadline to ensure that Arizona voters across the state receive an equal opportunity to vote in the November 6, 2018 general election.”

The GOP complained about the issue before Election Day and threatened to sue.

Democrats alleged it was attempted voter suppression and that recorders have followed the same procedures for years with no issues. Republicans said it was about following the law and having a timely ballot count.

The sluggish count is a perennial issue for Arizona, but has rarely received such a high level of attention because the GOP-leaning state generally has had few nationally-watched nail-biting contests.

Archer said early ballots dropped off on Election Day slowed the process because they have to go through the same system as the emailed-in ballots, some of which had been received 28 days ahead of time.

But now, “county recorders are trying to process them in a much faster amount of time.

“They’re doing the best they can and they’re doing it a decent speed,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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