Arizona will recount two statewide races this year, the attorney general and superintendent of public instruction contests, as well as an East Valley state legislative race. It will be the first time Arizona has recounted a statewide contest since 2010.
The attorney general race was decided by a razor-thin margin, with Democrat Kris Mayes beating out Abe Hamadeh by just 510 votes when Maricopa County finished tallying votes on Nov. 21. Republican Tom Horne beat Democratic incumbent Kathy Hoffman by 8,968 votes for the superintendent job.
A state law signed this year that was sponsored by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, increased the threshold for an automatic recount from 0.1% to 0.5%.
The AG race was decided by a margin of just 0.02%, which would have triggered a recount even without the new law. But Horne’s margin of victory in the schools superintendent race was 0.36%, meaning that race will be recounted because of the change.
The race for one of Legislative District 13’s House seats will also go to a recount, thanks to the new law. In that race, both candidates are Republicans, so the GOP will retain control of that chamber.
GOP candidate Liz Harris finished with 32.57% of the vote in the race, just 270 votes and 0.2% ahead of fellow Republican Julie Willoughby, who took 32.37%. The top vote-getter in the district was Democratic incumbent Jennifer Pawlik, who will take the district’s other House seat in 2023.
No other federal, statewide, legislative or ballot measure contests will go to an automatic recount this year.
The full recounts will be conducted using electronic tabulators – the same method used in the initial vote count. They’re separate from a limited hand-count audit that will tally a small number of ballots in each county and is meant to confirm the accuracy of the machine count.
The recounts are set to begin on Dec. 6, after state officials certify the election on Dec. 5.
That certification could be in jeopardy after the Cochise County Board of Supervisors postponed canvassing the results of their election, with two supervisors citing concerns about voting equipment. The Secretary of State’s Office has indicated it will try to force the supervisors to certify the Cochise County election, and if that doesn’t work, will certify the state election without them.
The recounts will largely look like a do-over of tabulation that happened on Election Day and the days following.
In Pima County, the second largest county in the state, it will mean bringing the same staffers who scanned ballots on Election Day back to work, said Constance Hartgrove, the county’s elections director. But since the recount won’t include other Election Day tasks like gathering ballots and verifying early votes, the tabulation could move more quickly the second time.
“We’re going to have more people in the counting room, to try to get through this recount as quickly as possible,” she said.
The recount law was part of a larger push by GOP lawmakers to pass “election integrity” legislation in the wake of Arizona’s 2020 election, which some claimed was marred by fraud. Ugenti-Rita said the recounts should help voters have confidence in election outcomes.
“That’s the point of the recount – to give people assurances that every vote was counted,” she said in a phone call last week. “And if it doesn’t come back the way the original count did, then (the recount) did its job because it highlights problems. And then we can address it, then we can focus on something and fix it, instead of throwing out complaints with no real focus.”
The last time there was a statewide recount was in 2010 for Proposition 112, a measure that would have changed filing rules for ballot initiatives, according to information provided by the Secretary of State’s Office.
The state covers the cost of recounts and paid out $66,000 to counties as reimbursement for the 2010 recount. In a memo provided to lawmakers as they debated Ugenti-Rita’s bill this year, the Secretary of State’s Office added that it expected the costs of future recounts would be higher due to rising labor costs and the growing number of Arizona voters.
Recent history suggests the recounts won’t change race outcomes.
In the case of Proposition 112, initial results showed the measure failed by 128 votes, according to reporting at the time. A recount found the same result, but put the margin at 194 votes, or 0.012%.
In 2012, Republican Martha McSally beat out incumbent Democrat Ron Barber to represent Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District in a race that was ultimately decided by just 167 votes. A recount added six votes to McSally’s margin of victory.
And in the 2016 GOP primary race for the 6th Congressional District, Andy Biggs beat Christine Jones by just a handful of votes. Biggs’ initial 16-vote margin of victory widened to 27 votes, or about 0.03%, after a recount. Jones also filed lawsuits in efforts to change the results, but ultimately dropped the cases.
Two high profile candidates who lost their races this year have refused to accept their defeat: Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and GOP secretary of state candidate Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley. But neither came within the margin needed to trigger a recount.
Finchem lost to Democrat Adrian Fontes by about five percentage points, or 120,000 votes. Lake was closer, losing her race to Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs by just 17,000 votes. Even so, the final margin in the governor’s race was 0.67%.
A few other legislative races were also close, but ultimately fell outside recount margin.
In Legislative District 9, Democrat Seth Blattman won the district’s second House seat with a margin of 0.65% over Republican Kathy Pearce. In Legislative District 16, Democrat Keith Seaman beat Republican Rob Hudelson by 0.62% in the race for the district’s second seat in the House.
Mayes, the likely incoming Democratic attorney general, addressed the recount in a statement after Maricopa County released its final results on Nov. 21, finishing the statewide count.
“As we head into this recount with a 510-vote lead, we feel confident that the end result will be the same, and I am very much looking forward to being your Lawyer for the People,” Mayes said.
“Thank you to all of our hardworking elections officials, poll workers and volunteers. We appreciate you,” she added.
Hamadeh, facing a narrow defeat, had a different message.
“We’re not done fighting and we are optimistic the recount will further expose the gross incompetence and mismanagement by Maricopa County officials that disenfranchised and silenced the voices of so many Arizona voters,” he tweeted on Nov. 21.