What’s Happening With the Election in Arizona? Live Updates, Thursday

7:30 p.m., Phoenix. With the latest ballot dump from Maricopa County, President Donald Trump continues to gain on Democratic challenger Joe Biden. After an estimated 76,000 counted ballots from Maricopa County were released on Thursday night, Trump trimmed Biden’s lead to just 46,257 votes. Ballots trickling in from other counties across the state, including the traditional Democratic stronghold of Pima County, also helped Trump narrow the margin.

But Trump’s gains tonight don’t mean that he’s out of the woods yet, according to some election observers.

“He’s absolutely still in the ball game,” Barrett Marson, a local conservative political consultant, told New Times. “He’s doing good in Maricopa. I don’t know that he’s doing great. He needs to go from good to great.”

Paul Bentz, vice president of research and strategy at HighGround, a Phoenix-based political consulting firm, said that it’s still unclear how the outstanding “late earlies,” which are ballots that came in days before the election, will trend. Democrats are arguing that they’ll go for Biden because younger voters submit their ballots late, while Republicans are arguing that the ballots will behave like Election Day voters, which skewed for Trump.

“He’s keeping it within spitting distance,” said Paul Bentz, vice president of research and strategy at HighGround, a Phoenix-based political consulting firm. “So if he has one good day … he has a shot at it for sure.”

“The president is going to narrow the margin,” he added. “It’s just not clear that it’s going to be enough for him to catch all the way up.”

The new numbers from Maricopa County also lifted up embattled Republican Senator Martha McSally in the Arizona Senate Race. She now trails Democrat Mark Kelly by 102,974 votes. However, McSally’s vote deficit is still large, making a comeback unlikely.

Dreams of a comeback also faded with this latest count for Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, a doctor running against Republican Congressman David Schweikert for control of CD6. She was winning against Schweikert in early returns on Tuesday, but the race flipped as more ballots came in, putting Tipirneni more than 6,000 votes behind. The latest vote count had her going the wrong way, increasing her margin of loss to more than 10,000 votes.

In a high-profile local race, incumbent Republican Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel boosted her lead over Democratic challenger Julie Gunnigle to 16,526 votes. On election night, Adel had originally trailed Gunnigle by around four points; 52 to 48 percent. Adel fell seriously ill on election night and underwent emergency surgery for bleeding in the brain. Her current condition was unavailable.

An estimated 204,000 early ballots remain uncounted in Maricopa County, according to Megan Gilbertson, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Elections Department. There’s also around 16,00 unprocessed provisional ballots and roughly 5,600 early ballots that still need to be verified. The next ballot drop will occur at 9 a.m. on Friday, November 6, followed by another at 7 p.m. the same day.

6:40 p.m.
 Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, says his office has looked into the Sharpie conspiracy and determined it’s nonsense.

5 p.m., Phoenix. The merits of a lawsuit alleging that the use of Sharpies prevented some votes from being counted will not be considered for several more days.

At a hearing this afternoon, Maricopa Superior Court Judge Margaret Mahoney ordered the parties to come together and provide a proposed schedule to her by late Friday morning.

The plaintiff’s local attorney, Alexander Kolodin, sought an immediate order allowing people who voted using a Sharpie to come and view the ballot counting process. “The members of the public are very concerned about the way their ballots are being handled,” he said.

Mahoney was skeptical of how this would help resolve the case at hand, particularly as the county argued that votes being counted currently are largely mail-in ballots, and said she would not be granting any motions today.

Lawyers from the county and state Democratic party both said that they would be introducing motions to dismiss the case in the next few days, at which point the merits of the case would have to be argued. Thomas Liddy, the litigation bureau chief for the city attorney’s office, told the court he wanted the case resolved quickly.

“The voters have a right to know that the allegations flying around the internet about sharpies being dropped out of black helicopters and cheating them out of their votes are false,” he said.

Larry Garber, an elections expert who is teaching at Arizona State University’s law school, told New Times that the hurdles in election law litigation are high and courts move quickly to dismiss frivolous lawsuits. To succeed in invalidating the election, plaintiffs need to show that any irregularities were widespread enough to affect results.

There are two goals with election litigation, Garber said. The first is to win the election.

“And second is to slow down the process,” he said. A lawsuit that probably won’t go far like this one is often an effort to buy time to put together a more substantive challenge, he said, adding that the good news is that judges are used to handling this kind of lawsuit and can address them quickly.

3 p.m., Phoenix. Standing before a raucous crowd of Donald Trump supporters outside of Arizona Republican Party headquarters in east Phoenix, a slew of local Republican leaders asserted in a show of force that the president is going to win Arizona in the end and claimed, without evidence, that the election could be “stolen” from Republicans.

“Arizona is in play folks, we are in play,” Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, said to cheers from the crowd. “We are winning this. Stay vigilant, stay awake. Do not let this election be stolen.”

As of early Thursday afternoon, Trump was trailing Democrat Joe Biden in Arizona by about 68,000 votes. There are several hundred thousand left to count in the state.

Debbie Lesko addresses the crowd.EXPAND

Debbie Lesko addresses the crowd.

Josh Kelety

Ward and David Bossie, a “senior advisor to the Trump campaign,” slammed media organizations for calling Arizona for Biden early on on the vote-counting process. Among the scorned was the conservative cable outlet Fox News, which was the first network to call Arizona for Biden on Tuesday night.

“Fox News sucks! Fox News sucks!” the crowd chanted.

Bossie said, “Every legal ballot must be counted. We are here to protect every legal vote. The news organizations that prematurely called Arizona have really done a disservice to the American people … What does the margin need to be in order for them to retract this horrible, horrible call?”

“They have been against this president, they have been against your president from the very first minute, four years ago,” he added.

Asked by a reporter if the Trump campaign planned to file a lawsuit over the election results, Bossie said that “all litigation strategies” are being “contemplated” but there’s been “no decisions on anything as of yet.”

Another reporter’s attempted question prompted a member of the crowd to shout, “Take your mask off. We don’t understand what you’re saying, you freak.”

At one point, Ward accused the Maricopa County Elections Department of not giving Republican poll observers a better view of “computer screens.”

Trump supporters.EXPAND

Trump supporters.

Josh Kelety

“We have had our poll observers, Republican poll observers, be disenfranchised,” she said, eventually prompting chants of “Fire Fontes! Fire Fontes!”

New Times attempted to follow up with Ward regarding that unsubstantiated claim, but she walked away, despite stating at the end of the press conference that she was “willing to take some more questions.” An irritated Zach Henry, communications director for the Arizona Republican Party, said that Ward wouldn’t be answering any questions.

Prior to that, New Times had asked Ward whether she thought the baseless claims from conservatives that poll workers distributed Sharpies to suppress Republican votes had any merit, Ward said, “I’m glad it’s being investigated … I think everybody feels like they’re affected by it, and we have to make sure that the voters feel confident in the integrity of our election.”

Arizona Republican Congressional members Debbie Lesko and Congressman Paul Gosar were also in attendance.

1:45 p.m., Phoenix. We trust ABC 15 “Data Guru” Garrett Archer so much we even gave him a Best of Phoenix award this year. Here’s where he says the state’s at in terms of remaining ballots as of 1:40 p.m. on Thursday.

Add 41,000 ballots from Pinal County to that, as Archer notes in a follow-up tweet.

1:30 p.m., Phoenix. A hearing is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. this afternoon over a lawsuit filed by a Maricopa County voter who alleges her in-person ballot was rejected because she used a Sharpie to fill it out and that she was not allowed to fill out a new one.

Laurie Aguilera filed the suit yesterday in Maricopa County Superior Court. She is represented locally by Alexander Kolodin, a conservative election attorney who had previously sued the county recorder’s office over ballot instructions that he argued violated state law.

Aguilera is also represented by the Indianapolis-based Public Interest Legal Foundation. An investigation by Snopes in October documented the group’s ties to President Donald Trump and its history of spreading misinformation around voting, specifically voter fraud, in support of the President.

A spokesperson for the recorder’s office said they couldn’t comment on pending litigation, but Recorder Adrian Fontes told Arizona Capitol Times that any concerns about Sharpies affecting votes was “hoo hah.” Preceding the election, Maricopa County elections released a video touting the use of Sharpies to fill out ballots because they dried the most quickly. The video also explained how the ballots were designed to stop any bleed-through from affecting votes on the opposite side.

Despite this, some prominent Trump supporters have amplified claims that Sharpies were being sent to disenfranchise Republican voters on Twitter. One account pushing the claim, Students for Trump, is tied to Turning Point USA, a conservative action group based in the Valley. The group was involved in efforts to spread disinformation in the lead up to the election and plans to hold a rally this Friday outside the Maricopa County elections building to “Protect the Vote.”

A similar demonstration drew around 100 people last night, including AZ Patriots leader Jennifer Harrison and national conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich. In preparation for a similar demonstration tonight, the county has erected fencing around the entrance of the building. Maricopa County Elections spokesperson Megan Gilbertson told Phoenix New Times the fencing was just to ensure that workers could exit and enter the building, and that demonstrators would be allowed in the unfenced half of the parking lot in front of the building.

Yesterday, after Sharpie conspiracies began to spread on social media, the office of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sent a letter to Maricopa County officials asking for answers about ballots that may have been discarded due to Sharpie usage. Gilbertson said they would share their response to the inquiry when it was sent later today.

We’re still waiting on that, but in the meantime, Sambo Dul, Elections Director for the Arizona Secretary of State’s office, has responded to the AG’s office on behalf of Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

“The Secretary [of State] is committed to overseeing a fair election and dispelling misinformation that would make that job more difficult for state and county election officials,” Dul wrote. “She sincerely hopes that the Attorney General shares that same goal, and will join an ever-growing chorus of public officials and media sources that have correctly labeled what is now being referred to as ‘SharpieGate’ as the unfounded conspiracy theory that it is.”

Anyone interested in tuning into the hearing at 3:30 p.m. can do so here.

Noon, Phoenix. As of 12:36 a.m. this morning, there are roughly 275,000 outstanding uncounted ballots left in Maricopa County, as well as an undetermined number of “provisional” ballots, according to the Maricopa County Elections Department. (A spokesperson for the agency did not answer New Times‘ calls.)

That’s out of a remaining 450,000 outstanding ballots left across the state, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs told CBS News this morning.

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Maricopa County will issue its next ballot drop at 7:00 p.m. this evening.

In Pima County, a Democratic stronghold home to Tucson, there remain somewhere around 45,000 additional ballots to be counted — a mix of early ballots and provisional ballots. The county says it has verified about half of those and is in the process of counting them. NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard is reporting that Pima officials say they’ll release 22,000 of the ballot results “this afternoon or evening.” 

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s lead over President Donald Trump tightened slightly following last night’s ballot drops; the current margin is around 68,000 votes. Republicans argue that Trump still has a shot of winning Arizona if the rest of the uncounted ballots continue to break his way by a large margin, but local Democrats are bullish on outstanding votes from Maricopa County, which make up the bulk of the uncounted votes statewide, trending toward Biden or breaking evenly, allowing Biden to preserve his lead.

During her CBS interview, Hobbs indicated that Arizona will have final election results tomorrow evening: “I think we should have a good indicator of where we’re at late tomorrow,” she said.

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