President Donald Trump and Republicans in Arizona and nationally are stoking claims of deliberate election fraud in the state’s U.S. Senate race as Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema await results of a vote that could swing in either’s favor.
The tight race has left Republicans in jeopardy of losing a Senate seat in the state for the first time in 30 years.
Though McSally held a lead in early vote totals, the tally flipped in Sinema’s favor Thursday night. Updated early results Friday morning kept Sinema with a 9,000-plus advantage, but an estimated 400,000 ballots remained to be counted.
“Just out — in Arizona, SIGNATURES DON’T MATCH,” Trump posted on Twitter on Friday afternoon. “Electoral corruption — Call for a new Election? We must protect our Democracy!”
Earlier, Trump told reporters it was “interesting” that the extended vote-counting “always seems to go the way of the Democrats.”
“Now, in Arizona, all of a sudden, out of the wilderness, they find a lot of votes,” Trump said. “And she’s — the other candidate — is just winning by a hair.”
McSally, Sinema and their allies poured tens of millions of dollars into advertising to help lock down the seat. Although Republicans maintained control of the Senate in this week’s midterm elections, any seat picked up by a Democrat would eat into their narrow margin.
On Friday morning, the Arizona Republican Party accused Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes of “premeditated destruction of evidence” after “voting irregularities” in the election.
Local Republicans have brought a legal case against Fontes and other county recorders over the verification of signatures on some early ballots.
Fontes has argued that verifying the signatures ensures all legitimate votes are counted. Republicans say the practice is inconsistent because other county recorders don’t try to verify ballots with mismatched signatures beyond Election Day.
The sides have a hearing in court at 2 p.m. Friday.
But state Republican Chairman Jonathan Lines raised the level of accusations, saying Fontes, a Democrat, “cannot be trusted to administer elections in Arizona.”
Amy Chan, former state election director under Republican Secretary of State Ken Bennett, tweeted, “Unfounded allegations of voter fraud are totally irresponsible and should rightly be condemned because they shake voter confidence & can affect future participation. Voter fraud in my experience is almost nonexistent. Shame on him for making these claims.”
Rhetoric about possible election fraud in Arizona, along with similar claims in Florida, reached the national level Friday morning.
In a tweet, Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale wrote, “These democrat counties in Florida and Arizona are playing tricks because they just can’t accept the fact they lost. I will not be shocked if investigations lead to rampant fraud.”
Although Fontes is a Democrat, the county vote in 2016 favored Trump by about 3 percentage points. Statewide, Trump won by about 3.5 percentage points.
Assertions of election fraud in Arizona ricocheted through talk radio and Republican Facebook groups Thursday night and Friday morning, as some perpetuated the idea that McSally’s reversed lead was the result of a fraudulent or unfair process.
“GOP has filed a lawsuit so they can investigate the truth of this election… it will be interesting to find out (what) is really going on,” wrote Rennae Hanson on Friday morning in a Facebook group called “Republicans of the Great State of Arizona.”
Fontes, throughout the election, has maintained the handling of so-called emergency voting centers as well as the county’s process to verify signatures on early ballot envelopes has been properly handled by his office.
U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., a McSally supporter, issued a statement critical of the inconsistencies in how county recorders handle ballots.
“Every single lawful vote in Arizona should be counted,” Kyl’s statement said. “And voting laws in our state should be applied uniformly across the map. Unfortunately, the Democrats legal strategy sounds an awful lot like an effort to disenfranchise voters from 11 counties from rural parts of our state and that’s troubling.”
Although the drawn-out counting process has frustrated both parties, it’s largely the same as vote counts in many major elections in recent years. A large number of Arizona voters cast early ballots. These must be signature-verified and opened by a bipartisan board of election workers. That means many ballots turned in at the last minute take days or weeks to count.
Here’s how to check if your early ballot was counted in Maricopa County
In a fundraising email Friday, McSally seemed to stoke the idea of fraud: “This is what we’re dealing with: Sinema and the Democrats have prepared millions of dollars to sue me in court to bend the rules and exploit loopholes in her favor. The Democratic Machine will do whatever it takes to change the results of this election.”
McSally asked supporters to donate to her campaign to fund “an army of attorneys and observers” intended to benefit her campaign.
Sinema’s campaign manager, Andrew Piatt did not address the legal controversy directly in a statement Friday. He said the campaign remains confident Sinema’s advantage will hold.
“We are confident trends will continue in Kyrsten’s direction and that she will be elected Arizona’s next U.S. senator.”
McSally’s campaign manager issued a similar statement Thursday evening, saying, “With so many ballots left to verify and count, we remain confident that as votes continue to come in from counties across the state, Martha McSally will be elected Arizona’s next senator.”