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Judge tosses Borrelli’s request to void Hobbs’ victory

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, on the floor of the Senate in 2020. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

A judge has tossed a bid by the incoming state Senate majority leader to throw out the results of the governor’s race over his claim that Maricopa County illegally uses computers to review signatures on ballot envelopes.

Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen said Friday that lawyers for Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, waited too long to serve the defendants, including Katie Hobbs, the governor elect, informing them of the challenge and their right to appear in court to defend themselves. The judge said the fact that the summonses had incorrect dates did not excuse the delay.

Jantzen also refused to give Borrelli’s attorneys more time to serve those summonses now. He said that, having delayed the matter already, there was no way to resolve the case by the deadlines set in law to deal with election challenges.

The case is not entirely gone.

Jantzen told the attorneys they are free to pursue their claim that Maricopa County is violating state laws about how signatures on ballot envelopes must be reviewed. But the judge outright rejected a contention by Ryan Heath, one of Borrelli’s lawyers, that an eventual ruling months from now against the county on the issue – assuming he sided with the senator – would allow him to order Hobbs removed from office.

There was no immediate response from Borrelli.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, Borrelli contends that Maricopa County has illegally delegated to “an unproven software program” run by a private company the required process of comparing ballot signatures to those on file. Early ballots can be counted only if there is a match.

Borrelli also contends that even if a final decision is made by a human, they are influenced by the preliminary conclusions of the computer of whether there is “high confidence” or “low confidence” in whether the signature matches.

The basis for Borrelli’s bid to void Hobbs’ victory is his contention that his vote and those of other residents of heavily Republican Mohave County, which does not use signature-verification software, were diluted because of illegal votes being tallied in Maricopa County.

That, he said, affected the race for governor where Hobbs outpolled Lake in Maricopa County by 37,638 votes. And that enabled the Democrat to be declared the winner by 17,117.

Only thing is, Borrelli’s lawyers had still not gotten around to legally informing the defendants – Maricopa County, the Secretary of State’s Office, and Hobbs personally as governor-elect – about the lawsuit when the case came to Jantzen on Friday.

Andy Gaona, representing the Secretary of State’s Office, and Alexis Danneman, representing Hobbs, did show up voluntarily on Friday.

But there was no one from the county whose ballot-review practices are at the heart of the case. And Jantzen said it was too late to start the case now, given that state law requires a hearing to be conducted by Dec. 22.

And there’s something else: the complexity of Borrelli’s claim.

“Even if this case were to go forward, this is a case that would require expert testimony and expert analysis from both sides for me to make any determination,” Jantzen said. “I wouldn’t know what artificial intelligence is and how it works unless I had a lot of things to review and read.”

All that, the judge said, would take more time than allowed to quickly resolve a simple election challenge.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer told Capitol Media Services that there was no use of computers this year to divide ballots into those “high confidence” and “low confidence” batches of whether the signatures matched. And Richer said Borrelli “didn’t bother asking any of the 100-plus people who worked on signature verification in Maricopa County prior to filing his lawsuit.”

In tossing out the challenge to Hobbs’ election on Friday, Jantzen did not set a date for Borrelli to pursue the balance of his claim where he asks the court to declare that the use of “unproven and opaque third-party computer software” at any point in the signature-validation process is illegal.

 

 

 

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