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Sinema takes 9,600-vote lead over McSally; Senate count continues

The margin between Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema and GOP candidate Martha McSally now stands at just less than 9,600 votes, following a day of legal maneuvering and continuing ballot tallies in Arizona's Senate race.

Sinema took a lead of 914,243-912,137 over McSally as Maricopa County reported a new batch of votes had been counted around 5 p.m. Thursday. That tally updated to 931,583-922,724 in favor of the Democrat as Pima County ballots were added to the count just before 6 p.m.

Just after 8 p.m., Sinema's lead ticked up again, to 9,610 votes.

McSally began the day with a 17,000-vote lead in the race. But the 26,000-vote swing doesn't mean the race is over.

There remain more than 350,000-400,000 ballots to count across the state, with the majority in Maricopa County.

Another large batch of uncounted ballots is in Pima County.

Arizona Republicans, prompted by a narrow U.S. Senate race, first sued to halt elections officials from contacting voters to verify early ballots handed in on Election Day, but then moved to extend that process through Saturday.

Read the full court documents

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With some 600,000 ballots remaining to be reviewed and potentially added to the count, and the margin between GOP candidate Martha McSally and Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema standing at just 17,000 votes, Republicans sued state and county election officials to bar them from contacting voters whose signatures on early ballots dropped off on Election Day do not match the voter rolls.

Thursday evening, the margin flipped, to 8,859 in favor of Sinema as counting continued.

Some 43,000 voters cast ballots for Angela Green, the Green Party Senate candidate.

After a judge refused an initial GOP request to have county officials segregate early ballots with questioned signatures, Republicans on Thursday afternoon changed course. Now, the GOP wants the court to order each of Arizona's 15 county recorders to allow voters to verify their signatures through Saturday.

A hearing in the case will be held in Maricopa County Superior Court at 2 p.m. on Friday.

Pima County has followed such a practice for years, and Maricopa County — under first-term County Recorder Adrian Fontes, a Democrat — began doing it this year.

Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez has said that her staff attempts to reach voters with signature mismatches by phone, to ensure that ballots are valid and should be added to the final tally.

Republicans claimed in court documents that election workers can follow such a practice prior to 7 p.m. on Election Day, but cannot do so after that. The GOP alleged that different counties follow different procedures regarding early ballots with signature mismatches after the election, which they claim is an equal protection violation.

Pima County — which has in the past set a deadline of 5 p.m. on the Friday after an election for a voter to "cure" a ballot — has yet to file a brief responding to the suit, but took part in a telephonic scheduling hearing on Thursday.

"We objected to segregating the ballots at this point as we already in process and cannot start a new procedure right in the middle of the process. The judge agreed," Rodriguez said.

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In Pima County, there were more than 59,000 early ballots remaining to be verified after Tuesday night, with the majority having been handed in by voters on Election Day. Including provisional ballots, there were more than 85,000 ballots left to be reviewed, with most expected to be added to the count.

Read more details: Update: Republicans reverse stance on counting early ballots in McSally-Sinema race

The Democrat's campaign said "when the Maricopa County Recorder releases its first batch of ballots this evening, there will still be approximately half a million votes left to count. Once they are counted, we are confident that Kyrsten Sinema will be the next senator for the state of Arizona."

The GOP lawsuit will be heard before Judge Margaret Mahoney, a member of the Maricopa County Superior Court bench since 2002.

The judge directed that any motions to intervene by outside parties be filed by Thursday afternoon.

"The judge also ordered that no discovery requests be filed and that the parties try to agree to the underlying facts to shorten or eliminate the need for testimony.  Those stipulated facts must be filed by midnight," said Chris Roads, Pima County's chief deputy recorder.

McSally sued to halt provisional count in 2014

McSally's congressional campaign sued to halt Pima County's count of provisional ballots in the 2014 general election, but a judge refused her move to block adding additional ballots.

McSally's lead eroded as provisional ballots were tallied in that race, which eventually saw her oust U.S. Rep. Ron Barber by just 167 votes after a lengthy recount process.

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Sinema and McSally