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GOP lawsuit settled, letting all Arizona counties verify ballots

PHOENIX – All 15 of Arizona’s counties can work to verify ballots that have signature irregularities after a Republican lawsuit was settled Friday afternoon without a hearing.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday night in the midst of the drawn-out process of counting votes after Tuesday’s election and with the contentious U.S. Senate race between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally in the national spotlight.

As a result of the settlement, which was finalized in Maricopa County Superior Court, county recorders have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to “cure” early ballots that were submitted with signatures that didn’t match the voter registration signatures, using the same methods they used before the election.

“In other words, everybody just keep doing what you were doing before,” KTAR legal analyst Monica Lindstrom told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos.

Up until now, only Maricopa and Pima counties had continued verifying signatures since polls closed Tuesday night.

Only a few thousand votes would be affected by the issue, but every one counts in the razor-close Senate race.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes told Mac & Gaydos that the settlement was an “affirmation” of his office’s practices.

“It’s what I proposed early on. I am very glad we are all on the same sheet of music,” he said.

State Election Services Director Eric Spencer tweeted that it was “A great result for Arizona voters.”

McSally released the following statement supporting the settlement:

Equal protection under the law is a fundamental constitutional right for American voters. As a combat veteran, I fought to protect it. And today, we won an important battle to preserve that right for rural voters in Arizona. I will continue fighting until every ballot is counted.

The suit was filed before Thursday’s batch of votes moved Sinema ahead of McSally, who led by around 17,000 votes after Election Day.

Democrat Kathy Hoffman also surged ahead of her Republican opponent, Frank Riggs, in the superintendent of public instruction race.

The suit alleged that the state’s county recorders weren’t following a uniform standard for allowing voters to address problems with their early ballots, and that Maricopa and Pima counties were improperly allowing the fixes for up to five days after Election Day.

The Republican position was that it was unfair for voters in rural counties, which are GOP heavy, that conflicts weren’t resolved on all of their ballots.

“We believe that every single lawful vote in Arizona should be counted, including those from rural areas,” state GOP Chairman Jonathan Lines said during a press conference outside the downtown Phoenix court building before the hearing was scheduled to be held.

“The Democrats’ legal strategy is clear, as it is troubling. They want to disenfranchise 11 counties they can’t win.”

On Thursday, Maricopa Superior Court Judge Margaret R. Mahoney said it was too soon to require counties to stop contacting voters to verify signatures on mail ballots. She also declined to order the counties to temporarily separate mail ballots that have been verified by that process after Election Day.

County registrars said that would cause chaos and slow the long vote-counting process even more.

Friday morning, the Arizona GOP alleged that Fontes has deliberately destroyed evidence to cover up “voting irregularities.”

Lines issued a statement claiming Fontes “directed his office to mix the disputed ballots in with the undisputed ballots — thereby ensuring that there could be no review of voting irregularities.”

In response to the accusation, Fontes told Mac & Gaydos, “Mr. Lines and his hyperbole are bad for our democracy.”

Even President Donald Trump weighed in on the Arizona vote count, suggesting “electoral corruption” in a Friday tweet without supplying any evidence.

The state’s Republican secretary of state, Michelle Reagan, said in a statement that in order to ensure against voter fraud, mail ballots dropped off Election Day — which totaled 320,000 — are double-checked with votes cast at the polls to confirm no one voted twice.

“Arizona takes elections seriously – from the poll workers to the county elections officials, and the Secretary of State’s office,” Reagan said in a statement Friday. “Everybody is working diligently to tabulate all of the election results in a manner that Arizonans can be proud of and, most importantly, trust the results.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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