Arizona Supreme Court rules against attorney seeking to void 2022 election

Hamadeh, court, Mayes

The Arizona Supreme Court refused late Aug. 23, 2023 to take up Abe Hamadeh's bid to overturn the results of the attorney general's race, at least at this point. And now he and his attorneys are on the hook for some new legal fees.

Arizona Supreme Court rules against attorney seeking to void 2022 election

The state’s high court has tossed out a bid to void the results of the entire 2022 election.

In a brief order Thursday, a majority of the justices said Scottsdale attorney Ryan Heath was asking them to order Maricopa County to re-do the process it used to verify signatures on early ballot envelopes. And they noted that Heath, representing David Mast and Cochise County Supervisor Tom Crosby, cited evidence that was introduced earlier this year in a challenge to the election results raised by failed Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake.

Only thing is, the justices said, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson already ruled in May that “there is clear and convincing evidence that the elections process for the Nov. 8, 2022, general election did comply” with the law.

More to the point, they said that only those who were involved in the original lawsuit have the legal right to appeal the trial court’s decision. And while Lake is still challenging some aspects of what Thompson ruled about the signature verification process – in her case, a claim that election workers never really did the legally necessary comparisons – she never raised the specific issue being pushed now for Mast and Crosby by Scottsdale attorney Ryan Heath.

All that, said the justices, leaves the new challengers without a legal avenue for review.

Even if that were not the case, the justices said Heath’s attempt to take his case directly to them is flawed in other ways.

First, they said, the kind of legal relief he is seeking from them – an order to redo the 2022 election or at least revisit the ballots – is only appropriate when there are no facts in dispute. That, the justices said, is not the case here.

Nor were the justices impressed by his explanation of why he did not file his case in superior court but instead asked to skip the line and go directly to the state’s top court.

Heath argued that going through the regular process “would add months of litigation and unnecessary expenses for both plaintiffs and defendants.” But the justices noted that he waited for nine months after the general election to file suit.

There was no immediate response from Heath on whether he will try to take his case to a trial judge.

At the heart of the issue is the signature verification process used by Maricopa County.

In the case of Lake’s own challenge, she argued there was no way for the county to have verified as many signatures on early ballots as it did in the amount of time spent. She said about 274,000 signatures were compared on computer screens in less than three seconds, with about 70,000 in two seconds or less.

Thompson called all that irrelevant.

“There is no statutory or regulatory requirement that a specific amount of time be applied to review any given signature at any level of review,” he ruled.

Heath tried a different legal theory.

He contends it was illegal for Maricopa County to verify signatures on early ballots by comparing them with images from prior early ballots. Heath argues that Arizona law requires comparisons to be with the person’s original voter signature.

So he asked the justices to decertify the 2022 results statewide and then order a recount of all early ballots, this time using what he believes is the only permissible method of verifying the signatures.

If the justices didn’t like that idea, Heath said they should order a new statewide canvass — the formal count of the vote — but including only the votes from the other 14 counties which he said used the legal and proper method of comparing signatures.

And if that idea didn’t sell, Heath had another: Decertify all statewide races — including not only statewide offices but also the ballot measure — and order a new election in Maricopa County, this time requiring officials to compare signatures on early ballots only to the original voter registration records.

With Thursday’s ruling, none of that is going to happen.

Issues of ballot signatures aside, Heath apparently is not done raising issues about the 2022 election result.

The web site for his law firm is soliciting clients for a yet-to-be-filed claim that they were disenfranchised on Election Day because they could not cast a ballot due to problems with on-site printers. That resulted in ballots being produced that could not be read by the tabulators at polling places, creating long lines at some sites and, he believes, some people leaving without being able to cast a ballot.

Now Heath is asking for people who didn’t get to vote to contact him to become a plaintiff in the litigation, promising those who respond that the lawsuit “will be fully funded at no cost to you.”

He contends that the problems resulted in enough people denied the right to vote that it affected two elections: the victory of Democrat Kris Mayes over Republican Abe Hamadeh in the race for attorney general by 280 votes, and the defeat of Proposition 309, seeking to impose new identification requirements, by 18,488 votes.

“This is a civil, class-action lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that your rights to vote were violated, that this election was defective and, therefore, must be redone and/or other corrective action taken at the expense of those that harmed your most sacred right,” his solicitation by his law firm states.

Maricopa County officials contend – and, so far, courts have ruled – that no one was disenfranchised because voters whose ballots could not be read on site had the option to place them in a sealed drawer to be tabulated later at a central location.