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Sinema takes 20,000-vote lead over McSally; Az Senate count continues

The margin between Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema and GOP candidate Martha McSally now stands at just more than 20,000 votes, following another day of legal maneuvering and continuing ballot tallies in Arizona's Senate race.

Sinema took a lead of 991,189-970,986 over McSally as Maricopa County reported a new batch of votes at 5 p.m. Friday.

With a narrow lead in the earliest counts, McSally began Thursday with a 17,000-vote margin in the race. But Sinema took a 2,000-vote lead as ballots were reported around 5 p.m. Thursday, and then expanded it to 9,000 votes — a margin that held up as more ballots were added to the count from around the state Friday.

But the nearly 40,000-vote swing doesn't mean the race is over.

There remain more than 450,000 ballots to count across the state, with the majority in Maricopa County.

Another large batch of uncounted ballots is in Pima County, where some 60,000 ballots remain to be tallied.

Republican suit settled; ballot 'cures' to expand, continue

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.

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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.

New document: Agreement to continue ballot review & 'cures'

Document: GOP complaint re: Senate ballot count

Document: GOP TRO motion re: Senate ballot count

Document: GOP moves to extend ballot verification

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.

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.

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.

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

The Democrat's campaign said Thursday "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."

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