PHOENIX — Arizona Democrats got a court order Thursday giving them access to a list of questioned ballots in a bid to have more of them verified. And Republicans will go to court Friday, Nov. 9, to try to change ballot-counting procedures to help their candidates in close races.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Kiley ordered Maricopa County Recorer Adrian Fontes to give the Democratic Party a list of those early ballots with signature-verification issues.
The same order also requires Fontes to produce a list of “provisional” ballots, those that are cast at the polls but are set aside because of potential problems, such as failure to have proper identification. If voters show up with the required ID within five business days, the ballots are counted; otherwise they are tossed.
With the order, Democrats will get both lists. That will enable them to find people on their own — presumably Democrats — to make sure that they do contact Fontes’ office and take care of an problems to ensure their votes do count.
Meanwhile, Brett Johnson, representing the GOP, wants to block four counties, where more votes have been going to Democrats than Republicans, from continuing to contact voters who turned in early ballots on Election Day but whose signatures apparently did not match what was on file in county offices.
Johnson does not dispute that election officials are free to contact voters to see if there’s an explanation, like a change in signature over time or perhaps even an illness.
But he contends that process has to stop at 7 p.m. on Election Day — even for people who submitted their early ballots that day.
Separating them out allows Johnson to argue on Friday to Maricopa County Judge Margaret Mahoney that those ballots should not be counted.
Both moves come amid close races between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally for U.S. Senate, and between Democrat Kathy Hoffman and Republican Frank Riggs for state superintendent of public instruction.
At last count, Sinema and Hoffman had opened up narrow leads, but about 477,000 votes remain to be counted statewide.
Central to the dispute before Mahoney Friday is how early ballots are handled.
The first step is to see if the signature on the envelope matches the one on file. If not, most counties contact the voter and see if they actually were the sender and if there is a reason for the discrepancy.
If everything checks out, the ballot is put into the stack to be counted.
In the four counties at issue, officials continue the verification process after Election Day.
By contrast, officials in the state’s other 11 counties — virtually all of which produced more votes for McSally and Riggs than for their Democratic rivals — do not contact voters when signatures do not match and do not count those votes.
Johnson, who represents Republican parties in the four counties, contends that disparity among the counties is unconstitutional.
He said the disparate decisions among county recorders on whether to try to contact voters means some people whose ballots are not counted “are suffering direct and irreparable injury.”
But Colleen Connor, a deputy Maricopa County attorney, told Mahoney in a hearing Thursday that she should dismiss the lawsuit, which was not filed until late Wednesday.
“This procedure was known prior to the election,” she said. If Republicans had a problem with the procedure, they should have brought the issue to court earlier, she said.