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Arizona Supreme Court to decide AZGOP chair’s attempt to overturn election

State GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward is asking the Arizona Supreme Court to send her lawsuit challenging the results of presidential election back to trial court so she can review more ballots, while the Secretary of State's Office and Maricopa County are asking the justices to reject her case on the grounds that she's already failed to show that President Donald Trump actually won Arizona.

Ward wants the courts to overturn the results of the presidential election in Arizona, which President-elect Joe Biden won by about 10,500 votes. Her lawsuit alleges, without evidence, that errors in verifying voters' signatures and in duplicating ballots that couldn't be read by tabulation machines may have cost Trump the election.

In order to find the proof needed to bolster her assertion, Ward asked Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner to allow her to inspect ballots. He agreed to let her inspect 100 duplicated ballots and 100 early ballot envelopes, which contain the signatures used to verify voters' identities. After Ward's attorney found two errors, Maricopa County allowed her to inspect 1,526 more, which yielded seven more errors.

The errors ultimately cost Trump seven votes and Biden two votes. If the error rate is applied to the nearly 28,000 ballots duplicated in Maricopa County, defense attorneys argued it would amount to a Trump gain of about 103 votes.

Warner on Friday rejected Ward's request to negate the presidential election in Arizona and declare Trump the winner, writing, "The Court finds no misconduct, no fraud, and no effect on the outcome of the election."

Ward's attorney, Jack Wilenchik, argued that the number is actually higher and that "at least hundreds more votes in Maricopa County" should have gone to Trump because of one Trump vote they found that was recorded as a vote for Biden. He told the Supreme Court in a brief on Monday that Ward had wanted to inspect all adjudicated ballots — ballots in which election workers had to determine a voter's intent — which would bring the total to perhaps more than 450,000 ballots.

Ward wants the Supreme Court to remand her case back to trial court "with orders to allow a reasonable amount of time for continued inspection and discovery of the ballots."

"Here, the trial court was pressured into allowing only two days of discovery, for a race in which three million, three hundred thirty-three thousand, eight hundred twenty-nine (3,333,829) votes were cast statewide," Wilenchik wrote. "Nevertheless, even in that short time, Plaintiff was able to discover evidence of serious error in the processing of actual ballots and seeks to discover more."

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Maricopa County certified its election results on Nov. 20, and the state of Arizona did the same on Nov. 30.

Roopali Desai, an attorney representing Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, said the trial court judge shouldn't have even allowed Ward to inspect the limited number of ballots he did, and asked the Supreme Court to reject her request to examine more. Ward is challenging the election under a statute pertaining to misconduct, illegal votes and erroneous counts of votes — none of which she has demonstrated, Desai wrote, noting that Warner found no evidence of misconduct, and that the small number of mistakes discovered during the case had no effect on the outcome of the election.

"Plaintiff didn't like the outcome in the presidential race, so she and her allies filed multiple lawsuits trying to undo it," Desai wrote, referring to an earlier lawsuit by the Arizona Republican Party that was dismissed. "[T]he people of Arizona made their choice, electing a slate of presidential electors by a margin of 10,457 votes. It's time for this litigation to end and for Arizonans to have finality."

Desai noted that Ward's case was largely predicated on allegations that GOP observers didn't have an adequate view of the signature verification, adjudication and duplication processes, a claim that Warner rejected and dismissed.

Joseph Branco, an attorney for Maricopa County, also urged the Supreme Court to reject Ward's claims, arguing that a small number of mistakes doesn't warrant the drastic move of throwing out the results of an election.

"Ward cannot predicate an election contest on mistakes," Branco wrote. "Ward has no basis for requesting that this Court usurp the fundamental right of Arizona's voters to select its presidential electors. Ward had her days in court."

It's unclear when the Supreme Court will decide the case. Federal law establishes Dec. 8 — six days before the Electoral College meets — as the "safe harbor" date by which states must conclude their election contests. Wilenchik urged the Supreme Court to ignore that date as essentially unenforceable so Ward has more time to inspect ballots in her search for errors.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy/Arizona Mirror

Kelli Ward at the State of the State speech in 2020.