Retrial Request in Attorney General Election Awaits Judge’s Decisions

Retrial Request in Attorney General Election Awaits Judge’s Decisions

By Terri Jo Neff |

Kris Mayes may have been sworn in as Arizona Attorney General earlier this month, but the legal arguments over whether she received the most lawfully cast votes is still ongoing, with a decision expected in a few weeks on whether Republican candidate Abe Hamadeh should be granted a second trial in his election contest.

Hamadeh’s motion for a new trial has been opposed by Mayes, Maricopa County, and new Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, who took over as a defendant when then-Secretary Katie Hobbs was sworn in as Governor. Hamadeh’s reply to the oppositions is due Feb. 6 and is reportedly being written by Jen Wright, the former head of the Election Integrity Unit under Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

After the reply is filed, Judge Lee Jantzen of the Mohave County Superior Court can either rule based on the written pleadings or set a hearing for oral arguments. Any decision Jantzen makes will likely be appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which could keep the case in limbo for weeks.

Jantzen dismissed Hamadeh’s election challenge Dec. 23 after a brief trial that featured the results of an expedited and limited inspection of ballots in just a few of Arizona’s 15 counties. The inspections were undertaken in an effort to obtain evidence supporting Hamadeh’s claim that thousands of votes cast for him were not counted during the Nov. 8 General Election.

The evidence presented to Jantzen, however, did not include reports of tabulation problems experienced by Pinal County. Those reports were not made public until Dec. 29 when the statewide recount results were announced, cutting Mayes’ margin from 511 votes to 280 votes out of more than 2.5 million ballots cast.   

In a Jan. 3 motion for a new trial, Hamadeh’s legal team points out Hobbs in her then-role as Secretary of State, did not disclose the extensive Pinal County problems to Hamadeh or the judge, even though Hobbs had direct knowledge of the issues prior to the trial. It is enough reason to allow for a more in-depth review of uncounted votes in the attorney general’s race across the state, Hamadeh argues.

The argument for a new trial recently got a boost from Arizona’s top two lawmakers.

In an Amici Curiae (friends of the court) brief, Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma urge Jantzen to “afford the parties a full and fair opportunity” to determine to answer the pivotal question of which candidate received the highest number of votes for Attorney General in the 2022 General Election.

Petersen and Toma take no position on who is the legitimate winner. Instead, they point to the fact Hamadeh now has “the kind of salient evidence” that Mayes, Hobbs, and Maricopa County argued Hamadeh had to supply to prevail during trail.

The Jan. 25 brief argues those same parties argue it is simply too late for Jantzen to do anything about it on behalf of Arizona voters. But that is not what the Legislature intended when it created state laws which allow voters and candidates to challenge the proclaimed “official” election results, according to the brief.

“The nearly unprecedented circumstances surrounding this proceeding underscore the judiciary’s indispensable role in ensuring that the certified winner of an election did, in fact, receive the highest number of lawful votes,” the brief states, adding Arizona law has “for more than a century afforded contestants a nearly unqualified right to inspect all voted ballots upon a minimal threshold showing of good cause.”

Toma discussed the amici curiae brief shortly after it was filed, pointing to the important role judges like Jantzen play in preserving election integrity.

“Election contests promote transparency, fact-finding, and an independent judicial inquiry when there are credible questions surrounding the accuracy of certified election results,” Toma explained.

In the meantime, Jantzen has another matter he needs to rule on.

Several persons were appointed to serve as ballot inspectors for the various parties during Hamadeh’s trial last month. Compensation for those inspectors is mandated under state law at a rate fixed by the court.

Jantzen, however, did not announce the rate in advance. As a result, those inspectors cannot be paid until an appropriate court order is issued.

Mayes has requested nearly $2,900 for the ballot inspector she chose for review of ballots in Maricopa County, a rate of $445 per hour for 6.5 hours. Meanwhile, Mohave County Attorney Matthew Smith is asking Jantzen to authorize payment to its inspector for 7.5 hours of work on the pay scale similar to an attorney in private practice.

Navajo County also filed a motion to compensate the three inspectors who traveled to Holbrook to inspect ballots in that county. Each of the three traveled at least 100 miles roundtrip and worked between 7 and 9.5 hours.

Unlike the motions by Mayes and Mohave County, the compensation request by Deputy County Attorney Jason Moore of Navajo County took no position on the hourly rate for the inspectors.

Hamadeh’s legal team has until Jan. 31 to respond to the compensation motions. Jantzen can then request additional arguments or issue an order.

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.

Abraham Hamadeh to Appeal Election Case After Recount Finds Hundreds of Lost Votes

Abraham Hamadeh to Appeal Election Case After Recount Finds Hundreds of Lost Votes

By Corinne Murdock |

An appeal may be underway in the case challenging the attorney general race results after Pinal County reported undercounting hundreds of ballots. 

Pinal County added to their count over 500 more ballots, effectively halving Democrat Kris Mayes’ lead from 511 to 280. Republican Abraham Hamadeh gained 392 votes, while Mayes gained 115 votes.

In a statement, Pinal County dismissed the missed ballots as “human error” that mainly impacted Election Day votes. The county pointed out that it had a 99 percent accuracy rate, based on the fact that the 500-odd vote discrepancy amounted to a .35 percent variance within 146,000 votes.

“[T]he recount process did what it was supposed to do — it identified a roughly five hundred vote undercount in the Pinal County election attributable to human error,” stated the county. “[I]n light of threatened litigation and rumored appeals, Pinal County can make no further comment at this time.”

READ PINAL COUNTY’S RECOUNT SUMMARY

The county also speculated that election workers mistakenly believed certain tabulators were counting votes when they malfunctioned. 

Prior to the recount and throughout the lawsuit against them, the county admittedly knew the major vote discrepancy existed. The Board of Supervisors’ new chairman, Jeff Serdy, told Arizona Daily Independent that their officials hadn’t said anything because they weren’t sure what they were allowed to say. Yet, their board of supervisors certified the election in late November anyways.

Pinal County wouldn’t have had the first board to reject election results over concerns of improper election management or malfeasance. Former Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller said in a statement to AZ Free News that she and fellow supervisor Steve Christy refused to certify the 2020 election due to concerns about her county’s administration of the election. Miller noted that she and Christy had “just cause” per statute to do so. 

“I felt certain that a vote approving the canvass would have not only been malfeasant but fraudulent,” said Miller.

Miller opined that signing off on faulty election results may constitute a felony, citing the recent debacle over the Mojave County Board of Supervisors’ initial refusal to certify their election results. 

“We heard from the Mojave County supervisors this year that they voted in favor of the canvass under duress. They claimed they were warned by the County Attorney’s Office that if they failed to certify this year’s election before the statutory deadline they would have invalidated all Mohave County elections and failure to approve the canvass may have represented an act of malfeasance,” stated Miller. “They said they would be at risk of committing a Class 2 misdemeanor under Arizona statute. Not only is the legal advice they received disputed, for some of us, it would be a felony to sign-off on an election that was not completely fair and free from shenanigans, or substantial human error.”

The massive discrepancies across the board spurred Secretary of State-Elect Adrian Fontes to remark that the variance was problematic. He said that a recount should yield only single digit differences — not hundreds. Fontes said that the county didn’t “step up” by training or preparing properly, and indicated that increasing funds and resources would remedy the issue.

“It is absolutely, really problematic to see the number of ballots in Pinal County that weren’t tabulated,” said Fontes. “If we’re not funding, training, and staffing these departments, we’re going to have these kinds of problems.” 

However, Fontes didn’t hesitate to congratulate Mayes on the victory.

Outgoing State Sen. Kelly Townsend (R-LD) expressed her disappointment with the recount results. 

The county’s Democratic and GOP parties issued a joint statement on Friday calling the recount a success and issuing their support for the recorder. 

Pinal County has been beset with problems throughout this election year. In August, former Elections Director David Frisk resigned after back-to-back issues ahead of the primary. The county faced several lawsuits after mailing about 63,000 voters incorrect early ballots. Then on the day of the primary, the county failed to have enough ballots on hand for voters. Workers were forced to disenfranchise those voters.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.