Biggs prevails in recount, Jones concedes

Jeremy Duda//September 16, 2016

Biggs prevails in recount, Jones concedes

Jeremy Duda//September 16, 2016


After a recount and multiple lawsuits, Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs is officially the victor in the Republican primary for Arizona’s 5th Congressional District, building on his narrow lead to win by just 27 votes.

Biggs, a longtime Gilbert lawmaker, began Friday clinging to a 16-vote lead and battling with rival Christine Jones over litigation that she hoped would put her back on top. The former GoDaddy executive filed a lawsuit two days earlier, her second since the August 30 election, hoping to add rejected ballots to the vote total.

But shortly after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joshua Rogers read the results of the recount, Jones conceded the race and announced that she would end the litigation.

“It was a nail-biter and I’m just grateful to the voters of CD5, all my supporters and volunteers, my campaign staff, my family’s support. I’m grateful to God in heaven. I’m very, very grateful that now we can move on and run the general race,” Biggs told Arizona Capitol Times.

Biggs and Jones’ legal teams had been fighting over whether to hear her lawsuit in superior court, as she wanted, or in federal court, as Biggs had sought. Jones brought the lawsuit in an attempt to include more than 100 provisional ballots that were rejected because voters went to the wrong polling place, and to inspect nearly 600 ballots that were dismissed because the county’s vote-counting machines determined that the voters selected more than one candidate in the CD5 race.

But about 15 minutes after Rogers adjourned the hearing, Jones’ attorneys called everyone back to the courtroom. After calling Biggs to concede the race, she addressed the court to do the same, as well as to pledge her commitment to promoting fixes to what she deemed flaws in Maricopa County’s elections system.

“I’m going to lay down my swords and we’re going to move on with our lives. But I will not lay down my effort to make sure that every single vote counts,” Jones said.

Jones congratulated her opponent, but insisted that voters were disenfranchised and that the outcome of the election was determined by voters whose ballots hadn’t been counted. She said some ballots were mistakenly rejected because elections officials decided their signatures didn’t match the ones on file, noting that some people’s signatures change over time, while others voted at the wrong precinct because poll workers didn’t tell them that their provisional ballots wouldn’t count.

“In this instance where nine votes separated the candidates, having a court of law decide the outcome of an election, rather than the voters, that is something we as people in Arizona and people in this congressional district can improve upon,” she said.

The CD5 race took a number of twists and turns. Jones led by 875 votes after Election Day. But as the county released subsequent ballot counts, Biggs continued to narrow the gap. It wasn’t until the final tally, three days after the primary election, that Biggs finally took the lead, edging out Jones by just nine votes and triggering a statutorily required recount.

While Jones led among early voters, Biggs was the favorite of those who cast their ballots on Election Day. Despite being heavily outspent by the wealthy Jones, who put about $1.9 million of her own money into the race, Biggs gained momentum in the final weeks of the race. The Club for Growth, a conservative free-market advocacy organization, spent more than a half million on his behalf. And Biggs said he closed the gap with strong grassroots support and a solid ground game in the East Valley-based district.

“I think there was a great momentum shift after about the first five- to seven days of the early balloting. We had a tremendous ground game. We had wonderful grassroots support, wonderful volunteers. Our campaign staff was clicking on all cylinders by then,” Biggs said.

Once the counting ended with Biggs holding a razor-thin nine-vote lead, Jones quickly went to court to rehabilitate ballots that were rejected due to signature or polling place issues. Rogers acceded and ordered Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell to include 18 additional ballots, ruling that poll workers were at fault because they did not inform voters that the only way for their votes to count was to go to the correct polling place, rather than vote in the wrong spot with a provisional ballot.

But the move backfired on Jones. Of the 18 ballots, 11 were added at the request of the Biggs campaign, and he brought his lead up to 16. Only five of the seven votes that were added at Jones’ request went to her, with one going to Biggs and another going to third-place finisher Don Stapley.

Jones went back to court in a bid to add the remainder of the 130 rejected provisional ballots and to force the inspection of 577 “overvotes” in which voters had chosen more than one candidate in the four-way race.

But time was working against her. The federally mandated deadline for the counties to mail ballots to overseas and military voters is Sept. 24, and county officials had to begin printing ballots four days earlier. State and county elections officials grew concerned that they would be delayed in sending those ballots. The timeline would have left Jones with one day to convince a judge to include the rejected ballots, unless he also granted her request to force Secretary of State Michele Reagan to seek an extension of the overseas deadline from the federal government.

“In this particular case, we got to the end of the day, and prolonging this, delaying ballots being printed, all of the things that a military family such as ours would try to avoid, didn’t seem like it had merit. So, we’re going to support the results and move on,” Jones told reporters after Friday’s hearing.

In between the two lawsuits, Jones also asked Reagan and Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate “anomalies” in the vote count. Specifically, she raised concerns with one of the final tallies on the Friday after the election in which her share of the vote dropped substantially and Justin Olson, who placed last in the race, saw his share of the vote jump. That batch of ballots reduced Jones’ already shrinking lead from 573 to just 37, paving the way for Biggs’ comeback.

Biggs said he’d been anxious about the results of the recount and the attendant legal challenges, but not concerned.

Though Biggs must still face Democratic candidate Talia Fuentes in November, the general election isn’t expected to be anything more than a formality due to the district’s heavy Republican registration advantage. The winner of the general election will replace Republican Congressman Matt Salmon, who announced in February that he wouldn’t seek re-election and instead threw his support to Biggs.

Biggs said he wasn’t going to overlook the general election, especially considering his narrow margin of victory in the primary. But he seemed relieve to have the nomination fight behind him.

“It still hasn’t hit yet, brother,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jones faced repeated questions about what she’ll do next. The CD5 race was her second campaign in as many election cycles, having run for governor in 2014, a race where she placed a distant third after self-funding more than $5 million.

Jones said she didn’t know whether she’d run for office again.

“I’ll give you the same answer I gave you two years ago. If the opportunity to provide leadership presents itself, I may take it. I just don’t know right now,” she said.