BY BOB CHRISTIE
Capitol Media Services
Lawyers for failed Arizona attorney general candidate Abe Hamadeh will have to prove during a Friday trial that miscounts or other errors in counting ballots would have led to his victory, but without being able to use a computer record of all the votes and with just one day to inspect ballots in three counties, a judge ruled on Thursday.
With only 511 votes separating the Republican from Democratic candidate Kris Mayes, Hamadeh attorney Timothy La Sota had urged Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen to give him access to the computer-generated tally of votes cast in the race so he could narrow down the ballots he wants to inspect in Pima, Maricopa and Navajo counties.
“We really need the (cast vote record) to kind of make heads or tails of the ballots,” La Sota told the judge during a Thursday morning hearing. “It’s part and parcel with that” inspection.
But Jantzen said the law on election contests only allows ballot inspections, not access to the electronic record that vote tabulation machines create, and he denied La Sota’s request. He also refused to delay Friday’s one-day trial until next week, agreeing with attorneys for Mayes that the tight deadlines in state law for election contests precluded that.
Jantzen also rejected Hamadeh’s request to add additional three-person panels to inspect ballots, agreeing with Mayes attorney Alexis Danneman and lawyers for Maricopa and Navajo counties that more inspection teams were not allowed.
But he did say that he believed the law allows him to appoint different inspection teams in each county — with one person each for Mayes, Hamadeh and the court. He ordered the lawyers to draw up a list of people for those teams by noon so he could immediately appoint them.
“There has to be an inspection of the ballots by the plaintiffs and I believe that has to be done today,” Jantzen said. “I’m going to do my hearing tomorrow (Friday).”
La Sota said at the end of the hearing that the ballot inspection would now focus almost solely on so-called “undervotes,” ballots where the computer tabulators found no vote in the attorney general race despite votes in other races. He had said at an earlier hearing that he believed it was possible ballot tabulators missed some of those votes.
Nearly 40,000 ballots among more than 2.5 million cast statewide had a vote for governor but not for the attorney general’s race.
Hamadeh’s election challenge in one of the closest statewide races in Arizona history faces a high bar. State law says that election results are presumed to be accurate and there has to be evidence proving that mistakes or fraud would have led to a different result.
Jantzen also rejected La Sota’s effort to get a list of provisional ballots rejected by Maricopa County and the names of those voters so he could determine if some of them should have been counted. About 58% of the county’s nearly 8,000 provisional ballots went uncounted, many for registration issues that Hamadeh’s suit contends are incorrect.
“The list of provisional ballots and the names of those people is not a ballot,” Jantzen said. “That’s not something that has to be disclosed.”
Hamadeh’s lawsuit alleges four basic issues affected the outcome: that some rejected provisional ballots should have been counted, that ballots were inaccurately duplicated after machines were unable to read them, that election boards improperly counted some votes during a review of problem ballots, and that Election Day problems with polling site vote-counting machines led to some voters being unable to cast a ballot.
An automatic recount is nearly completed, with 14 of 15 counties transmitting the results to the secretary of state. Results were expected to be released at a Thursday court hearing but have been delayed until at least Dec. 29.
The results of the recount in the attorney general’s race has been ordered held until Hamadeh’s election contest concludes. Results in races for superintendent of public instruction and a Phoenix-area legislative district were ordered delayed at the request of attorneys for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who said in a court filing on Tuesday that all counties have yet to deliver their final recount tallies and they will need to be reviewed before filing with the court.
Hobbs won the race for governor but faces her own election contest from Republican Kari Lake, who lost by more than 17,000 votes. A two-day trial in that case was set to conclude Thursday, with a Maricopa County judge expected to later rule on whether Lake had proven her allegations that intentional acts by Maricopa County election officials and illegal votes meant Hobbs had actually lost.
Whoever loses in both the Lake-Hobbs case and the one involving Hamadeh and Mayes is expected to immediately appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.
Time is tight: new state officials are due to be sworn into office on Jan. 2.T