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Cochise rejects Barber call to delay canvass, count more ballots

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Cochise rejects Barber call to delay canvass, count more ballots

  • Barber on election night.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comBarber on election night.

Cochise County joined a move by Pima County earlier in the week, rejecting a request Thursday by U.S. Rep. Ron Barber to delay a vote to approve the canvass of the election, a move that would give the Democrat more time to make a case for adding some rejected ballots to the count.

Attorneys for the congressman asked the Cochise County Board of Supervisors to put off the canvass, providing signed declarations by nine voters who said their ballots had been rejected improperly.

Barber, a Democrat, trails Republican challenger Martha McSally by just 161 votes in the election for Arizona's 2nd Congressional District, which covers Cochise and about half of Pima County residents. Because of the narrow margin, an automatic recount will be held next month.

Tuesday, the Pima County Board of Supervisors rejected a similar request to delay the official approval of the count. Barber's campaign said then there were 132 Pima voters in the district whose ballots were improperly tossed out.

In Cochise, the campaign said voters had their ballots rejected because they cast provisional ballots at the wrong locations. One was told by officials that her signature did not match the one on file, attorneys said.

Another 11 voters had their early ballots rejected because they did not sign the affidavit. "There is no rational basis for permitting ballots to be cured where a signature-mismatch determination has been made but not where a ballot is unsigned," Barber's attorneys told supervisors.

In Pima, the Barber campaign on Thursday added 15 affidavits to the 132 sent to supervisors earlier in the week, and said that the county should count those ballots and amend the certified vote count to include them.

McSally's campaign has not commented on the issue this week. The Republican was in Washington, D.C., attending orientation sessions for freshman members of Congress, as she did two years ago when she narrowly lost to Barber.

Tuesday, her lawyers argued before the Pima board that the supervisors didn't have the authority to delay the canvass. Under Arizona law, the canvass may be delayed if valid ballots are missing from the count.

Barber's lawyers pointed out to supervisors votes that they maintain should be counted, but did not raise the issue of a general election ballot that has apparently gone missing from a batch found mixed with Continental School District votes late last week.

Last week, McSally's lawyers went to court in an attempt to halt the counting of some ballots, but a judge denied the move.

In a letter to the Pima supes on Tuesday, Barber said that errors by poll workers led to voters casting ballots at the wrong locations, while others were mistakenly tossed out because signatures didn't match.

Far from conceding the race, Barber's campaign has stopped short of saying that they'll file a suit to challenge the vote count, but said they'll continue to ask state and local officials to include more ballots in the count.

"Just because mistakes get made, doesn't mean voters get disenfranchised," said an attorney for the incumbent Democrat.

The canvassing process is designed to spot and correct errors, "and ensure the final certified results are correct," said Kevin Hamilton, from the Perkins Coie law firm.

"The system broke down here," with voters not directed to the correct polling locations. "This is not a failure of the voters, but a failure of the poll workers," he told reporters Tuesday.

In Pima County, 776 ballots were rejected for various reasons, with nearly half — 371 — rejected because registered voters went to the wrong polling place, County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said last week.

Because the 2nd Congressional District covers only part of Pima County, not all of those ballots are relevant to the Barber-McSally race.

Along with the letter, affidavits from 132 voters were sent to the supervisors, describing why they believe their votes should be counted.

Among them were Sita Adhikari, who became a U.S. citizen in 2013 and was casting a ballot in her first election. Her vote was discarded because she cast a provisional ballot in the wrong polling place. Adhikari said that poll workers did not direct her to the correct polling location, as they are required to do.

Also told that her ballot was not counted was Roma Page, who was born in 1919 and been registered to vote since she was 21 years old, Barber's campaign said. Page, an Arizona resident since 1985, had her ballot rejected because her signature on an early ballot did not match the one on her registration card.

"Like many older voters, her signature has changed with age. She called the Pima County Recorder's Office to ensure that her ballot was counted, but they neither returned her call, or counted her ballot," Barber's lawyers said.

The Barber campaign's letter to the supervisors pointed to two married couples — all were registered to vote, but both wives had their ballots discarded. One couple were incorrectly told their names were not on the voter lists. The husband pointed out his name and voted a regular ballot, while the wife voted a provisional ballot that was not counted. Another couple who had recently moved were told their names were not on the rolls; the husband's provisional ballot was counted while the wife's was not.

Another voter spoiled his original ballot, and was not given a replacement regular ballot as required, but rather a provisional one — that was not counted, Barber's campaign said.

Hamilton wouldn't say whether Barber was preparing to sue to have more ballots included in the count; the campaign is taking the issue "one step at a time," he told reporters Tuesday.

"Arizona law has multiple levels," he said.

"The process isn't done," he said, with the campaign still receiving calls from voters concerned that their ballots weren't counted.

The unofficial totals in CD 2 are 109,704 for the Republican challenger, and 109,543 for the Democratic incumbent.

Arizona's first-ever recount in a congressional race will be mandated because the difference between the candidates is 200 votes or less.

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