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Az election: All counties to continue ballot 'cures' until Nov. 14

All Arizona counties will continue reviewing ballots through next Wednesday, in a settlement after Republicans — prompted by the close Senate race — first sued to halt allowing voters to verify ballots and then asked to expand process.

A hearing on the suit filed by the Republicans had been scheduled for Friday afternoon.

Under the settlement, all Arizona counties will allow voters who cast early ballots which have signatures that do not match the signatures on file to "cure" their ballots and have them added to the count.

Pima County has long allowed voters who drop off early ballots on Election Day to verify that their signatures on the outside of ballot envelopes are correct if the handwriting is questioned as ballots are checked in the days after the election. Maricopa County adopted the practice this year. Others, such as the GOP-leaning Yavapai County, have not allowed voters to verify any ballots after the polls closed.

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As the early vote count showed just how close the race could be, Republican groups 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.

Under the settlement announced Friday, the count will continue through next Wednesday.

Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said her office's "Problem Ballot Team" will be available 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. all weekend and through Wednesday to help voters verify their ballots. Voters who have been contacted by the Recorder's Office here can call back at 520-724-4330 to make sure their ballots are tabulated.

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 Thursday, 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.

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

Thursday evening, the margin flipped to 2,106 votes in favor of the Democrat, with Sinema taking the lead as counting continued. That lead grew to around 9,000 and held steady as more ballots were added to the total on Friday.

It's unknown how many ballots could be affected — Maricopa County Recorder said of the 345,000 ballots left to be tallied there, just some 5,600 might need to be cured by voters — but with Sinema maintaining a narrow lead of about 9,000 votes Friday afternoon and about 450,000 remaining  to count around the state, every last ballot is worth scrapping over.

About 60,000 ballots remain in Pima County, where Sinema has a strong lead. No new count expected to be released here on Friday.

A full count of all the ballots in the state, including Pima, could take another week.

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.

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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.

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.

The majority of the outstanding uncounted ballots in the state were in Maricopa County, but a breakdown of early ballots and provisionals there to be reviewed was not available.

"It seems that several counties are also reaching out to those voters that dropped off their vote by mail ballot on Election Day," Rodriguez said, "... following up with a phone calls. "

"Pima and Maricopa (counties) just have the most calls to make because of volume," she said. 

"It seems the only county that does not do this is Yavapai; they are the only one that stated this," said Rodriguez, an elected Democrat. Leslie Hoffman, the Republican recorder for Yavapai County, invalidates ballots if the signatures do not match without contacting voters, Rodriguez said.

"I am not sure if the voters even know this as she does not advise them," she said.

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Sinema and McSally

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