At a late afternoon hearing on Friday, county recorders and the Arizona Republican Party announced that they reached a settlement in a signature-verification lawsuit the GOP had hoped would help turn a historic Senate election their way.
The battle had begun as a GOP attempt to block two of the state's largest counties from counting early ballots with mismatched signatures after Election Day.
The settlement says that all 15 Arizona county recorders must enforce a uniform deadline of Wednesday, November 14, at 5 p.m. for voters to verify that they signed the ballot if their signature does not match the one on file.
Ironically, Republicans claimed that giving extra days to rural voters was their intention all along, even though that's not what their initial complaint said on Wednesday.
In the Maricopa County Superior Court filing, attorneys for four Arizona GOP county parties specifically mentioned Maricopa and Pima counties, arguing that an extended period of verification "finds no statutory authorization and threatens to beget an extended period of confusion and uncertainty following the election."
Judge Margaret Mahoney, in a preliminary ruling on Thursday, rejected the Republican motion to block county recorders from continuing to verify ballots this week.
Newly tabulated ballots in the too-close-to-call Arizona Senate race between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally on Thursday night showed Sinema with a slight lead over McSally for the first time, as Sinema gained ground mostly because of Maricopa County and Pima County voters.
Approximately 20,000 votes separate Sinema and McSally, according to the latest figures from the Arizona secretary of state as of 9 p.m. on Friday evening.
But these newly counted results, combined with the GOP lawsuit, fueled runaway, unfounded conspiracy theories among Republicans – including President Trump – that the Senate election was somehow illegitimate.
After the lawsuit was filed, attorneys for the Republican officials claimed they just wanted a uniform deadline to verify mismatched signatures. They didn't care about the extended verification process as long as all counties benefited, attorney Brett Johnson told the Arizona Republic , arguing that the intention of the lawsuit had been misinterpreted.
Maricopa, Pima, Coconino, and Apache counties allow signature verification to take place for several days after polls close on Election Day. In the process, known as "curing," county officials contact voters to ensure that the right person actually signed the envelope of their ballot.
Coconino County Recorder Patty Hansen told Phoenix New Times on Friday that the county planned to verify signatures until November 14 at 5 p.m., or five business days after the election – the same deadline the county uses for voters casting a provisional ballot to bring in the proper identification so their vote will be counted.
"I don’t consider it curing, I consider it affirming that yes, that is your signature and yes, you voted that ballot," Hansen said. "Curing makes it sound like they did something wrong, and the voter didn’t do anything wrong. Their signatures just changed."
The same deadline now applies to all counties under the settlement.
By the time the Republicans held a very abridged press conference on the steps of the Maricopa County Superior Court on Friday, their argument had taken a strange, 180-degree turn: The Democratic Party was guilty of attempting to take the vote away from rural Arizonans, they said.
Arizona Republican Party chairman Jonathan Lines seemed to blame Democrats for election practices set by individual counties across the state. “The Democrats’ legal strategy is clear as it is troubling," Lines said. "They want to disenfranchise 11 counties they can’t win.”
GOP attorney Kory Langhofer adopted Trumpian talking points of a rigged election.
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“The Democrats are stealing this election, and we’re not gonna allow it," Langhofer told reporters. "Our position is that every single lawful vote in this state has to be counted, regardless of where you live."
Langhofer said that Democrats want two sets of rules, one for "folks who live in small towns across Arizona, who live in Trump country," and another for residents of Democratic counties that makes it easier for them to vote.
He didn't explain how Democrats are stealing the election seeing as rural county recorders were responsible for the hard deadline for signature verification, which restricted the time frame for likely Republican voters to have their ballots verified.
Instead of addressing this contradiction, Langhofer blasted Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, a Democrat. He called him a “liberal activist who’s counting the votes here."