Hamadeh asks for more ballot inspections to prove Arizona AG’s race was unfairly won
Abraham Hamadeh’s third appeal to nullify the results of the race for Arizona attorney general he lost last year hinges on permission to inspect more ballots, which attorneys for his Democratic opponent say proves that his claims continue to be evidence-free.
On Tuesday, Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen heard arguments on whether or not to grant Hamadeh another opportunity to challenge the results of the election he lost by just 280 votes. Attorneys for the failed Republican nominee argued that more than 1,000 thwarted votes tipped the outcome against him, but were unable to present more than speculation to the court. A decision on the case’s future is expected in the coming weeks, though an exact date wasn’t set.
A quick recap
The 2022 midterm elections, widely predicted to be a windfall for Republicans, instead resulted in narrow wins for several Democratic candidates. Democrat Kris Mayes captured the attorney general’s office by a margin of just 511 votes.
GOP candidates immediately sought to overturn their losses in the courtroom, bolstered by mishaps on Election Day and conspiracy theories surrounding those mishaps. Issues with on-demand printers in Maricopa County caused tabulators to reject as many as 17,000 ballots, leading to confusion and claims of disenfranchisement as voters were asked to travel to other polling sites, submit their ballots for counting later, or fill in provisional ballots.
Hamadeh’s first lawsuit contesting his loss in late November was thrown out of court for ignoring the timelines of when challenges can be legally filed. A second attempt was thrown out in December for failing to meet the burden of proof. During that trial, Hamadeh’s attorneys lodged a bevy of complaints, including that widespread election worker misconduct and unfair election verification processes cost him the race. But with only 14 ballots submitted as dubious evidence following an examination of more than 2,000, Judge Jantzen was forced to dismiss the case.
After a statutorily mandated recount revealed poll worker errors in Pinal County to such an extent that Mayes’ lead shrunk to 280 votes, Hamadeh launched a third challenge, shifting the focus to undervotes and rejected provisional ballots.
Hamadeh’s request: Let us do more digging
Attorneys for Hamadeh excoriated Gov. Katie Hobbs — at the time the secretary of state — and Maricopa County election officials for what they perceived as concealing information. Hobbs, attorneys claimed, could have shared information from the recount while the trial was underway because it was relevant to the issues in the case, and a public records request submitted to Maricopa County for a list of provisional voters wasn’t completed until after the trial had wrapped up.
“When evidence or information is not revealed, it does violence to the interest of justice. It does violence to the truth function of the court,” said attorney for Hamadeh, James Sabalos.
State law, however, directs the secretary of state to deliver the results of the recount to a judge, and only the judge may announce those results. That announcement was delayed until Dec. 29, just under a week after Hamadeh’s trial finished, due in part to one county needing more time to perform a post-recount audit.
Attorney Jennifer Wright, a frequent critic of Mayes who served under previous Attorney General Mark Brnovich, pointed to hundreds of written declarations from voters who alleged they were disenfranchised as proof that Hamadeh should’ve won the election. Wright also claimed that as many as 1,100 provisional ballots were erroneously rejected in Maricopa County alone, among them hundreds of voters who stated their registrations were incorrectly canceled and updated to reflect a separate property address in another county. Wright posited that changes made to ServiceArizona, the state’s department of transportation self-service website, and Arizona’s voter registration database unintentionally complicated the process enough to disenfranchise voters across the state.
A similar viral claim from Hamadeh in March was debunked after it was reported that the veteran who alleged his registration was incorrectly moved to Navajo County was found to have simply agreed to update his registration after applying for an I.D. card in the county.
Wright speculated that because Election Day voters were overwhelmingly Republican, it’s likely that the majority of rejected provisional ballots would have been cast for Hamadeh by a large enough margin to change the outcome of the race in his favor. To prove those claims, Hamadeh’s attorneys requested a limited ballot inspection to make their case.
“We assert by reason of erroneous vote counts, Kris Mayes, who was declared elected, did not in fact receive the highest number of votes for office of attorney general,” Wright said.
Opponents responses: Judge should dismiss the ‘fishing expedition’
Alexis Danneman, representing Mayes, criticized Hamadeh’s legal team for failing to present any concrete evidence beyond written testimonials. Those testimonials aren’t facts, Danneman said, and estimates about vote counts aren’t either.
“As we stand here today, more than five months after the trial, they still are not in possession of actual evidence that would change the result. Instead, their argument before this court boils down to: ‘the election was close, if you let us keep looking, we might find something,’” she said.
Election challenges, Danneman added, are strictly governed by state law and the exceptions Hamadeh’s attorneys are requesting simply don’t exist. Lawsuits challenging the results of a race must be filed within five days of the statewide canvass, the trial must begin no later than 15 days afterward and the judge is required to make a decision on the case immediately, to avoid lengthy deliberations that could jeopardize election integrity.
Allowing Hamadeh to rehash the election after he was already given the opportunity to do so in court and failed, and after the mandated recount has already verified the results of the election would set a dangerous precedent, Danneman said.
“The extraordinary and unprecedented relief that Plaintiffs are asking for would cause chaos,” she warned. “Chaos for the courts, chaos for election officials, chaos for the attorney general. Election contests would go on forever, the contestant could continue to look for more new evidence indefinitely.”
Craig Morgan, an attorney for the secretary of state’s office, noted that the relief Hamadeh claims to seek — ensuring that all votes are counted — has already been satisfied by the statewide recount. It was through that process that issues were identified and uncounted votes were added to the final tally.
Greenlighting the case, Morgan said, would do nothing for election integrity in Arizona. It would only serve to bolster election deniers like Hamadeh, who continues to circulate baseless claims of fraud on social media and rightwing news platforms.
“Arizonans deserve finality in the 2022 general election,” Morgan said. “Everyday this case exists without a final judgment is another day the contestee, his friends, his colleagues and his constituents continue to impugn the validity of our election processes in Arizona, impugn the integrity of those public servants who have dedicated themselves and their careers to preserving our democracy for future generations and cast doubt on the very foundation of our nation.”
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.