Did Kyrsten Sinema win the 2018 Arizona Senate seat last Tuesday? The question remains up in the air, as Arizona’s largest county has 345,000 ballots left to count. Democrat Sinema has a lead over her GOP competitor Martha McSally of over 9,000 votes as of the morning of Nov. 9. That’s a shift from early results in which McSally was on top.
While the initial vote proceeds, the Arizona GOP accused the Maricopa County official in charge of elections of “intentionally” destroying evidence related to a lawsuit it had filed.
And President Donald Trump tweeted that “electoral corruption” was afoot in Arizona because “signatures don’t match.” He provided no evidence.
Arizona has extremely tight rules on recounts, making the preliminary count critical to both sides. An automatic recount occurs for this race when the votes separating the winner and second candidate are less than 0.1% (one-tenth of 1%). In this Senate election, that will be in the 2,250 to 2,500 vote range once all votes are counted.
Neither candidates nor voters can ask or pay for a recount. Only an extraordinary effort by a court could cause a re-evaluation otherwise. The initial count still has days left before it’s done.
The GOP lawsuit Trump alluded to was filed over how mail-in ballot deficiencies are resolved by voters. In Maricopa and Pina counties, which represent about 75% of votes cast in Arizona and the major urban populations, mail-in voters—which include John McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain—have up to five days after the election to fix problems. Other counties require validation by Election Day.
That can include an election worker deciding that a signature on the envelope used to deliver the ballot doesn’t match the voter’s signature on record closely enough. These and other issues are typically easily resolved by voters.
In the afternoon of Nov. 9, the Arizona Republicans and Democrats agreed to a counting revision, and the GOP dropped the lawsuit. Rural voters will now have the same opportunity to correct ballot problems as those in the two largest counties. Only a few thousand ballots are likely at stake, but the election is so close that they could decide the race.
McSally forebore wading into the fray, and instead posted a picture on Twitter of being in a dentist’s chair. In previous elections, McSally has also faced long delays in obtaining a final count for both a loss and a win. In 2012, she lost her first run at the U.S. House by 1,400 votes almost two weeks after the election. She won in 2014 by 167 votes six weeks after the election and after an automatic recount. In 2016, she had a 14% margin of victory, and the election was quickly decided.