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Ballot-curing push in Arizona may have tipped AG race for Democrats – The Arizona Republic

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If Democrat Kris Mayes holds on to her narrow lead in Arizona’s attorney general race, the votes that put her decisively ahead of Republican Abe Hamadeh likely were secured after Election Day.

Mission for Arizona, an organization jointly operated by the campaign for Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., and the Arizona Democratic Party, used the week after the election to “cure” an estimated 3,400 ballots they viewed as favorable for their party that had signature-mismatch issues.

Arizona Republicans worked aggressively to similarly cure thousands of ballots in the same span, but those efforts still left Hamadeh 511 votes short in the certified results now being recounted.

It means Mayes’ current winning total, aided by a relatively high Republican crossover rate generally and a boost in Democratic-friendly cured ballots at the finish, may have put her over the top.

That race appears to be Arizona’s closest statewide race by vote differential in at least 50 years. It is one of three currently subject to an ongoing automatic recount but is the only one possibly impacted by the parties’ post-Election Day maneuvers.

Related:What’s next for Abe Hamadeh’s attorney general election challenge? Judge sets schedule

There were more than 14,000 ballots with signature-mismatch problems statewide. The effort by hundreds of volunteers in both parties in Arizona to get many of those ballots counted is a reminder of the sprawling duties that now go into winning races in one of America’s most competitive swing states.

Campaigns depend not just on money, volunteers, and urging voters to cast their ballots. They also extend to include door-to-door ballot curing using some of the same people who signed up new voters in the spring or called for contributions in the summer.

In a state where lawsuits and recounts seem to happen with more frequency, more pedestrian efforts such as contacting those with problematic votes may be an underappreciated secret ingredient to winning.

“It’s really something we had incorporated into our plans from the get-go,” said Sean McEnerney, coordinated campaign director with Mission for Arizona. “We did this across the state, in English, Spanish and Diné as well to make sure the turnout operation did not end on Election Day. We made sure everyone who cast their ballots had their voices heard.”

Mayes acknowledged the importance of curing ballots in her case.

“As we witnessed especially in my race, every vote mattered,” she said in a statement to The Republic. “I am thankful to all of the volunteers who assisted with all aspects of the election season, including ballot curing. I personally spent a day knocking on doors during the legal curing period to alert folks about their ballot issues. Democracy is a team sport, and it takes all of us to make a difference.”

A spokeswoman for the Arizona Republican Party could not be reached for comment about the matter.

Democrats have systematically sought to cure votes for years, but the growing sophistication of party-managed voter profiles and the continuity of effort from Kelly’s 2020 special election to his 2022 reelection helped Democrats boost their effectiveness.

In 2020, the party counts 1,427 ballots cured. In 2022, it reached 3,407. They did it this year by reaching out to about 7,600 prospective Democratic voters whose ballots were placed on hold.

Not every voter necessarily voted as either party wanted, and they didn’t necessarily vote in every single race. But any extra votes can make the difference in a race like the Mayes-Hamadeh contest.

Across Arizona, the Democrats’ team called, knocked on doors, and sent text messages to people presumed to be Democratic-leaning and reminded them their votes would not count unless they contacted their county-level election office to validate their ballots.

“There’s definitely voters who don’t know,” McEnerney said. “They say they got a message or a phone call, but they say, ‘I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do.’ Having a staff member show up at their door and walk them through that process is really important.”

And preparation for the post-election work can be crucial.

“Losing a day or even half a day during the cure period makes a big difference,” he said.

Related:Here are all of the challenges to Arizona’s 2022 election so far

Republicans found no shortage of volunteers for a similar push to cure ballots, which for the GOP is relatively new and reflects the realization that the once-reliably red state is undeniably competitive.

Arizona’s vote-by-mail system requires ballots to be enclosed within envelopes signed by the individual voter. Election officials compare the signature on the envelope to the signature on file before allowing the envelope to be opened and the ballot inside to be counted with others.

Voters who put no signature at all on the envelope must get that problem resolved by the end of Election Day. For those envelopes flagged as mismatched, the individual has up to five business days after the election to get the matter resolved with election officials in their county.

County officials typically try to contact the voters to tell them if there is a problem with their ballot. The parties effectively reinforce that message.

Democrats and Republicans know the party registration of every voter in the state and use various data points to help guess the partisan lean of independent voters, too. Both sides use their information to contact voters whose signatures were preliminarily in question.

Those uncounted, or “uncured,” ballots can take on even greater significance in a state where close races now seem the norm.

President Joe Biden’s 2020 win in Arizona came by less than 11,000 votes, the smallest margin in the country. Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs won her race this year by about 17,000 votes. She became secretary of state in 2018 after winning by 20,000 votes. A 2018 corporation commission race was settled by fewer than 5,000 votes.

Besides the attorney general’s race, election officials are also doing state-mandated recounts for the superintendent of public instruction contest and a state legislative race in the southeast Valley.

Republican Tom Horne is the superintendent-elect, and his certified win over Democrat Kathy Hoffman, while close, still came by nearly 9,000 votes.

In Legislative District 13, Republicans Liz Harris and Julie Wiloughby are separated by 270 votes. State Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, leads her closest GOP opponent by more than 3,300 votes.

Reach the reporter Ronald J. Hansen at ronald.hansen@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4493. Follow him on Twitter @ronaldjhansen.

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