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Judge hears testimony in election challenge

A court-ordered inspection of more than 1,600 ballots cast in the general election found just nine with errors in the presidential race — not enough even if the error rate ran through all similar ballots to declare Donald Trump the victor here.

The disclosure came as Jack Wilenchik, attorney for state GOP Chair Kelli Ward, presented a series of witnesses Thursday who testified about seeing errors in how Maricopa County handled ballots that needed to be duplicated.

This happens when an entire ballot — or some of the races on it — is unreadable to automatic scanning equipment. That could be due to physical damage, stains or extraneous marks.

The idea is for a bipartisan group of election workers to examine the ballot, attempts to ascertain the intent of the voter and crafts what is supposed to be a mirror ballot that can be fed through the machine.

The witnesses told Warner they saw various errors in the process, with both individuals and rescanning machines taking ballots that should have been marked for Trump and either re-marking them for Biden or otherwise altering them so that Trump would not get the vote.

Scott Jarrett who works for the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office testified that a review of that sample of more than 1,600 ballots showed there were some mistakes made by county workers in duplicating the originals. But he said a review of a random sample of these duplicated ballots ordered by the court turned up just 9 with errors.

That’s a crucial point.

Jarrett extrapolated that error rate out among the nearly 28,000 ballots that had to be duplicated in Maricopa County. And he said if that same error rate ran through all those duplicated ballots — a point he is not conceding — that would have given Trump only 102 more votes.

Biden won Maricopa County by more than 45,000 votes.

He also told the judge that even when there were errors, no vote for Trump was awarded to Biden. Similarly, he said, votes intended for Biden that were improperly re-makred on ballots did not wind up in Trump’s tally.

Jarrett also testified that none of the machines that tallied the ballots are connected to the Internet where some outsider could alter the results and that the equipment and software used in the county was reviewed and certified.

And in a bid to show the accuracy of the whole process, Jarrett detailed for Warner the process used in a legally required random hand count.

That’s where a sample of ballots chosen by officials of both parties are manually reviewed to see how the results compare with what the machines tallied. He said there was “no variance” between the hand review and the machine count.

It will be up to Warner to make the final decision of whether there were sufficient errors to throw the returns into doubt, particularly for the presidential race.

Ward hopes to convince Warner to toss out the results. And that, in turn, could throw the issue to the Republican-controlled legislature to decide who gets the state’s 11 electoral votes — the votes that the just-completed certification said should go to Biden.

Warner earlier Thursday threw out another part of Ward’s claim. She said Republican observers were not able to adequately see what was going on in the counting of votes, the duplication of damaged ballots, and the comparison of signatures on ballot envelopes with what is on file.

The judge, however, said the allegation comes too late.

“Claims of insufficient opportunity to observe those procedures should have been brought when there was an opportunity to correct any violation of Arizona law, if there was a violation,” the judge said. That, Warner said, could have led to an order for more access while ballots were actually being counted.

But what Wilenchik now wants, the judge said is “to upend the entire election,” something he is not willing to do — at least not based on those claims.

Separately, Ward and others who would have been the electors for President Trump were in to federal court Thursday afternoon with their own laundry list of complaints about election irregularities that should lead to throwing out the election returns, at least in the presidential race.

Attorney Howard Kleinhendler who represents the challengers to the results said he most immediately wants U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa to issue a restraining order preventing the 11 Democratic electors from casting their ballots for Biden as scheduled on Dec. 14. That will give him the time to present evidence of what he claims is fraud in how the election was conducted.

Kleinhendler also wants the judge to order the seizure of all voting machines, software, ballot return envelopes, paper ballots and other election materials. That goes to charges that the system used by Maricopa County was deliberately programmed to add votes to Biden and that early ballots were counted which may not have come from registered voters.

But Justin Nelson, representing Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, pointed out to the judge that the lawsuit names his client and Gov. Doug Ducey as the only defendants. But what Kleinhender wants is in the hands of Maricopa County which is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Humetewa said she will schedule a hearing for this coming week.

In both cases, the lawsuits focus only on the top of the ticket.

Republicans did fairly well in most other races, holding their own in the Arizona House and losing only one seat in the Senate.

The only other key race where the GOP candidate came up short was the defeat of incumbent Martha McSally in the U.S. Senate race. But the margin of victory for Democrat Mark Kelly was nearly 78,000 versus the 10,457 edge that Biden tallied over Trump.

 

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