/ Modified nov 17, 2020 10:38 a.m.

Ballot count complete in Arizona, but Republicans press ahead with challenges

Despite legal and political challenges, officials have vowed to certify results by the Nov. 30 deadline.

ballots_maricopa Ballots in Maricopa County.
Courtesy Maricopa County Elections Department

WASHINGTON – Arizona elections officials finished counting the last of more than 3.4 million ballots over the weekend and are vowing to certify the results in the next two weeks, despite ongoing challenges from state Republicans.

In the final unofficial count, President Donald Trump narrowed the gap with President-elect Joe Biden, but still trailed by 10,457 votes, a slim margin of 49.39% to 49.09%.

But Republicans are not about to give up, with at least two lawsuits challenging vote processing, including one set to be heard Wednesday. And GOP members of the state’s congressional delegation said they will push for an audit of the Maricopa County returns.

Those efforts were dismissed as “meritless” Monday by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who said she expects to meet the legal deadline of Nov. 30 to certify the election results.

“Our work should be to build, rather than damage, public confidence in our election process,” Hobbs said in an emailed statement Monday. “Arizonans participated in record numbers and the administration of the election went smoothly despite unprecedented challenges — including a pandemic and an array of frivolous lawsuits.”

The attorney behind one of those suits said it does not aim to delay the process, just make sure it worked correctly.

“We are not interested in moving anything back that doesn’t need to be moved back,” said Jack Wilenchik, an attorney representing the Arizona Republican Party in its suit against Maricopa County. He said the state GOP is just trying to make sure elections are done “fairly, transparently, right and legally.”

That suit, scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in Maricopa County Superior Court, claims that election auditing procedures put out by Hobbs’ office conflict with state law. The law says at least 2% of precincts must be audited, but counties that use voting centers instead of precincts can use 2% of the centers for auditing purposes.

But in a letter to legislative leaders last week, the office of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich — a Republican — pointed out that the voting center provision has been approved by the last three secretaries of state, two Republicans and a Democrat, Hobbs. The letter also noted that strictly following the law would mean no ballots would be audited at all, since there would be no precincts to pull ballots from.

A second suit by Republicans — claiming that ink bleeding through ballots led to them being rejected by voting tabulation machines — got a chilly reception Thursday in a Maricopa County Superior Court hearing. Judge Daniel Kiley ruled much of the evidence in that case inadmissible and witnesses, when questioned, were not able to guarantee that their ballots were not counted by the tabulating machines.

Attorneys for the state and county also noted that the case involved fewer than 200 ballots. That point was conceded Friday by the lawyer for the Trump campaign who told the court the case was moot in the presidential election, given the size of Biden’s lead, but that it would still affect two state races.

While the lawsuits work their way through the courts, state lawmakers are pushing for legislative challenges.

“The ballot count may be coming to a close but the Arizona election results are not final until a full forensic audit of Maricopa County is complete and when the state legislature certifies the election,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, in a statement Monday. “I am working with the state legislature to request a full audit, which is different than a recount.”

Gosar joined Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, and Rep. David Schweikert, R-Fountain Hills, in a separate move calling on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to perform a “manual audit” of the county’s ballots.

“Although Arizona conducts elections with far more transparency and accountability than other states, there have been some issues raised about the integrity of some of our election systems within the state,” Biggs said in a statement Monday.

“For this reason, I am calling on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to go above and beyond to assure the public of the integrity of Maricopa County’s elections,” Biggs said. “Let’s leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of accountability and transparency.

But while Democrats eked out victories at the top of the ballot, and were able to unseat sitting Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., their down-ballot successes were decidedly mixed.

After leading on election night in Maricopa County races for supervisor, recorder and attorney, Democrats ended up losing in the final count. Democrats were not able to gain ground in Arizona’s U.S. House delegation or to take control of either chamber of the Legislature.

Jason Rose, an Arizona political consultant, said he is “disappointed” in Arizona Republican lawmakers who are “buying into a political conspiracy and playing politics when none is necessary.”

The lead Republican cheerleader for those charges is Trump, who has tweeted a constant stream of allegations of voting improprieties — most of which have been flagged by Twitter as disputed.

Those claims have been refuted by the government’s own Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which said in a report Thursday that it found “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost vote, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Public officials like Brnovich, a Republican, and Hobbs, a Democrat, have insisted that there is no evidence of voting irregularities in Arizona. Rose said critics need to listen.

“There is no fraud here. There’s good people in charge of the elections. Are mistakes made? Small mistakes periodically, I’m sure there are,” Rose said. “There was no grand conspiracy here in Arizona.”

For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.

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