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Arizona GOP claims Maricopa County destroyed some voting evidence

A worker carries ballots to be verified at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, 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. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Republican Party is alleging that Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes deliberately destroyed evidence to cover up “voting irregularities” as the county moves to count hundreds of ballots in the tight U.S. Senate race between Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema.

In a statement released Friday, Chairman Jonathan Lines said the party sent a formal, written request to all the county recorders in Arizona, including Fontes, requesting that all evidence of “irregularities” be preserved after they were discovered during the early voting period.

Lines pointed to the use of emergency voting centers and an “inconsistent method” for counting early ballots as some of the irregularities. Lines said the party informed Fontes that there may be a legal challenge based on the irregularities and that state law required county recorders to set aside the disputed ballots during the legal process.

But instead, Lines claimed, 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.”

“Fontes’s decision was made deliberately, after receiving the letter from the Arizona Republican Party and being informed of his legal duty to preserve evidence,” Lines said in a statement.

Lines said the party is “reviewing all legal options at this time.”

The statement was released hours before a judge was set to hear arguments over a Republican lawsuit that was challenging the way early ballots could be counted.

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 early ballots, and that two counties improperly allow those fixes after Election Day.

“Whether you are a tea party patriot, or whether you’ve got a pink knit cap on your head, we are all Americans first, your votes are all going to get counted under my administration and let the winners be discovered once we are done with a thorough, accurate and accountable election, ” Fontes told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos on Friday.

Legal analyst Monica Lindstrom told Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes on Friday that the issue regarding this standard is not new.

“This law has not been clear or consistently followed with the counties,” she said. “We knew about this — or I should say, the parties that filed the lawsuit — knew about this before this election,” she said.

According to Arizona Mirror’s Jeremy Duda, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said there was no legal requirement that Fontes separate ballots like Lines argued.

The most prominent Republican to have raised baseless allegations of voting fraud in Arizona has been President Donald Trump, who claimed there was “electoral corruption” because “signatures don’t match.”

Trump, earlier Friday morning, suggested there was something sinister about “Democrats” adding to their tallies. “Now in Arizona, all of a sudden, out of the wilderness, they find a lot of votes,” he said.

The lengthy ballot counting process in Arizona can be partially due to the fact that voters like to vote early, by mail. A mailed-in ballot requires more work for Arizona elections officials because state law requires the envelope to be sealed and signed, and for elections officials to match each signature to the one on file with the voter’s registration before even opening the envelope.

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 ACLU of Arizona said in a tweet that it asked a judge to give voters until Nov. 14 to clear up any signature-matching issues on mail-in ballots.

The tight race for U.S. Senate took a turn on Thursday, when a surge of ballots put Sinema ahead in the race by more than 9,000 votes.

Garrett Archer, the senior analyst with the Arizona Secretary of State’s office, told Arizona’s Morning News on Friday that there are still approximately 450,000 ballots statewide that still need to be counted, the majority of which are in Maricopa County.

Archer said the next ballot update from Maricopa County, which is expected to come at 5 p.m. on Friday, will benefit Sinema.

“Demographically, it’s similar to what we just observed,” he said.  “It’s expected to get worse for McSally before it gets better.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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