Another judge dismisses another GOP suit over election, ballot count

Election workers process ballots in Maricopa County. A Superior Court judge dismissed a state Republican Party lawsuit challenging the way the county audited ballots, one of several court losses for the party over election procedures. (Photo courtesy of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office)

PHOENIX – Arizona Republicans suffered another blow Thursday to their legal challenges to the election when a Maricopa County judge dismissed a suit claiming that county officials’ audit of ballots was in technical violation of state law.

The ruling by Superior Court Judge John Hannah marked the second time in less than a week that the Arizona Republican Party’s claims of voting impropriety had been thrown out by a Maricopa County judge. A hearing is scheduled Friday on one more challenge, brought by plaintiffs who have already had their case dismissed once by a county judge.

“Another frivolous lawsuit has failed,” Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs tweeted Thursday in response to Hannah’s ruling. “Elections officials ran this election and counted the votes in accordance with Arizona law.”

Requests for comment on Hannah’s ruling from Arizona Republican Party officials and their attorneys were not immediately returned Thursday.

But Steven Slugocki, the chair of the Maricopa County Democratic Party, said the judge was right to reject GOP claims that he called “completely disingenuous.”

“They’re disrespecting the will of the voters… of the people. They need to stop politicizing the election,” Slugocki said.

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The court battles come as state and county elections officials are moving to certify the ballots in an election that handed Democrat Joe Biden a more than 10,000-vote victory over President Donald Trump, a key battleground win in Biden’s apparently overwhelming win.

Arizona, usually a reliably red state, also convincingly elected Democrat Mark Kelly to the Senate over incumbent Sen. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, giving the state two Democratic senators for the first time in almost 70 years.

State Republicans began pointing to what they claim are voting irregularities almost as soon as the polls closed on Nov. 3. But state and county officials have insisted that the Nov. 3 election was one of the smoothest on record.

The Trump campaign, the state party and the Republican National Committee filed suit Nov. 7 claiming that Sharpie markers used in Maricopa County vote centers bled through ballots and made it appear as if voters had chosen too many candidates. But instead of setting such “overvote” ballots aside for later review, the county’s vote tabulating machines erroneously rejected those ballots, the suit said.

Judge Daniel Kiley of Maricopa County Superior Court last Friday rejected most of the evidence – which was gathered through an online poll – and dismissed the case after Trump’s attorney conceded that it the fewer than 200 ballots involved could not make up the gap with Biden, making the case moot.

The latest case was filed last Thursday by the state GOP against Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes and the county board of supervisors.

It argued the county’s system of auditing election results by choosing ballots from the counties voting centers to hand count violates state law, which requires that the audited ballots be randomly selected from at least 2% of county precincts. Because Maricopa County did not vote by precinct this year, it could not sample by precinct.

But attorneys for Fontes and the county argued that state law was revised in 2012 to allow vote centers to be used when hand counting ballots. They also argued that it is too late to recount the county’s votes this deep into the election.

Hannah issued a three-page order Thursday afternoon dismissing the claim with prejudice, and rejecting a GOP request for an injunction that would have stopped the county from certifying the election results. He said a fuller order spelling out his reasoning would follow.

Fontes and county supervisors did not respond to a request for comment. But Slugocki welcomed the court’s rejections of the Republican lawsuits.

“I’m frustrated at their repeated attempts to delegitimize this election just because they don’t like the results,” Slugocki said.

He noted the timing of the latest ruling.

“Tomorrow, the board of supervisors will approve the canvass. They will make this election official,” Slugocki said.

News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Allen Awfe is a New York native who expects to graduate in spring 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science. Awfe primarily works as a digital reporter on the politics beat for Cronkite News, and Arabic is his second language. He has done freelance work for several publications in Phoenix.