ARIZONA NEWS

Arizona Republicans sue county recorders over ballots

Nov 8, 2018, 7:22 AM | Updated: 5:31 pm
(AP Photo)...
(AP Photo)
(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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Rep.-elect Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., celebrates his win at an election night gathering for Democrats Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. Stanton defeated Republican Steve Ferrara in Arizona's 9th Congressional District. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, R, speaks to supporters, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at an election night party in Scottsdale, Ariz. Incumbent Ducey defeated democratic challenger David Garcia for his second term. (AP Photo/Matt York) Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, R, embraces Cindy McCain, wife of the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, while speaking to supporters, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at an election night party in Scottsdale, Ariz. Incumbent Ducey defeated Democratic challenger David Garcia for his second term. (AP Photo/Matt York) U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., holds his daughter Olivia as he speaks to supporters, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at an election night party in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York) (KTAR News/Jim Cross) (KTAR News/Jim Cross) (KTAR News/Jim Cross) (KTAR News/Kathy Cline) (KTAR News/Kathy Cline) (KTAR News/Kathy Cline) (KTAR News/Griselda Zetino) (KTAR News/Griselda Zetino) (KTAR News/Griselda Zetino) (KTAR News/Griselda Zetino) An elections official counts ballots at the Tabulation and Election Center, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Arizona Republican senatorial candidate Martha McSally, speaks with voters, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at Chase's diner in Chandler, Ariz. McSally and Democratic challenger Kirsten Sinema are seeking the senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who is retiring in January. (AP Photo/Matt York) Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at a relocated polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Chandler, Ariz. The new polling station opened four hours late after the original location did not open due to the buildings' foreclosure overnight. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

A volunteer moves supplies to a relocated polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Chandler, Ariz. The new polling station opened four hours late after the original location did not open due to the buildings' foreclosure overnight. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

A notice sign is seen at a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Chandler, Ariz. A new polling station opened four hours late after the original location did not open due to the buildings' foreclosure overnight. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Marcicopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes holds an Election Day press conference, Nov. 6, 2018. (KTAR Photo/Ali Vetnar) Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, R, arrives to cast his ballot early Tuesday, Nov 6, 2018 in Paradise Valley, Ariz. Ducey is seeking re-election against Democratic challenger David Garcia. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) Arizona Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Garcia serves coffee at a local cafe, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. Garcia is challenging Republican incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Voters head into Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix to cast their ballots on Nov. 6, 2018. (KTAR News Photo/Jim Cross) Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins places a "vote" sign outside a polling station prior to it's opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins hangs "vote" signs outside a polling station prior to it's opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

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Arizona Republicans sue county recorders over ballots