Judge rules 18 votes to be counted in tight congressional primary

Christine Jones is in a tight race with Andy Biggs in the Republican primary for the 5th Congressional District. A judge ruled Friday that 18 disputed ballots must be counted. (Photo by Alexa Stueckrath/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – A judge on Friday ordered 18 disputed votes to be counted in the congressional Republican primary between Christine Jones and Andy Biggs, putting a race divided by a sliver of votes into further disarray.

Hours after the ruling, Biggs trumpeted new results on the Maricopa County Recorder’s website that showed his lead climbed to 16 votes. It indicates “strong momentum,” Adam Deguire, a Biggs consultant, said in a statement.

“We feel confident this margin will hold during the recount,” Deguire wrote.

It wasn’t immediately known whether Jones will contest the new numbers. She could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Biggs had been leading Jones by a mere nine votes in unofficial results in the Republican primary. But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joshua Rogers ruled county elections officials impeded the 18 voters’ rights in the 5th District race because of poll workers’ mistakes.

The county Elections Department did not properly train workers, who did not tell those 18 voters their provisional ballots would not be counted, the ruling says.

“Because of the systemic nature of the policy of the county, the court finds that the burden on Maricopa County voters is severe,” the ruling says. “Failure to include these votes may affect the outcome of this election in light of the narrow margin at issue.”

Joseph Kanefield, Jones’ attorney, asked Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell to count all provisional votes cast in the 5th District in the Aug. 30 primary, not just those named in the ruling.

“With respect to the County’s policy, the court found it to be systemic and countywide,” Kanefield’s letter to Purcell says. “Thus, the policy wrongfully applied not just to the 18 identified voters, but to every voter casting a ballot in the wrong precinct. Consequently, as a matter of fundamental constitutional law, you must count all 136 of these wrong precinct ballots in CD 5.”

Biggs’ campaign also addressed the ruling.

“We are pleased to see that the judge was not persuaded to count the votes of only Jones’ supporters,” Deguire said in a statement just after Friday’s ruling. “As long as the counting method remains neutral, we’re confident that Andy Biggs will prevail after these votes are included. We look forward to beginning the recount process next week after the canvass is completed.”

Jones attended a court hearing on Thursday in which several voters testified they were not at their correct polling location and cast provisional ballots. But they did not know their vote wouldn’t count and said, if they had known that, they would have instead gone to the correct polling place to vote.

“I was disappointed,” Melissa Faust, who testified at the Thursday’s hearing, said. “I took the time out of my day and I thought that it’s my civil right to vote.” Faust’s vote is among the 18 that will now be counted.

Witnesses also testified they didn’t believe poll workers intended to discredit their votes.

Voters cast ballots in the wrong precinct because of a Maricopa County error in training poll workers, according to the Friday ruling.

Those in the wrong precinct can cast a provisional ballot if they are unwilling to travel to the correct polling center. However, these votes do not count, and poll workers were never instructed to relay that information to voters, the ruling states.

Jones and Biggs are in a four-way race for a seat now held by Republican Matt Salmon, who is retiring.

The judge ordered the county Board of Supervisors to hold off on certifying the election until the 18 ballots in the race are counted.

Elizabeth Bartholomew, spokeswoman for the Recorder’s Office, said poll workers are inundated with information on election days and can easily forget to inform voters on everything they should know.

“I think we are going to look at this ruling and go forward by training our poll workers better,” she said. “It’s a lot of information for a poll worker to take in on everything that happens on election day.”

Bartholomew said the recorder’s office is looking for new ways to train poll workers in time for the November general election, but does not have any new training methods set in stone at the moment.

“We’re going to try and put up signs in the polling place that might remind voters that if you do not vote in your correct polling place, your vote will not count,” Bartholomew said. “We might try and do some extra voter education.”