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Pima County finishes recount of ballots in Arizona AG, schools chief races

Pima County finishes recount of ballots in Arizona AG, schools chief races

Statewide results to be released by judge on Dec. 22

  • Paul Ingram/

Pima County officials have completed their recount in the election for Arizona attorney general and superintendent of public instruction, sending the results of the review of nearly 400,000 ballots to the Secretary of State's Office on Friday.

Following the November election, just 510 votes separated Democrat Kris Mayes from Republican Abe Hamadeh—with more than 2.5 million votes cast, this is the closest-ever margin in an election for that state office. Meanwhile, Republican Tom Horne had a lead of 8,967 votes over the incumbent schools chief, Democrat Kathy Hoffman.

Under state law, any margin of 0.5 percent or less triggers an automatic recount of the race. That threshold was raised from just 0.1 percent by the Legislature earlier this year.

Three races races in Arizona were close enough to trigger an automatic recount under state law, and earlier this week, officials in Arizona's 15 counties began processing ballots, again. The recount could not begin until the formal canvass of the entire statewide vote was completed on Monday. While all counties are recounting ballots for attorney general and schools superintendent, Maricopa County also has to review ballots for state representative for Legislative District 13.

Maricopa County has completed about 31 percent of its recount, while Cochise County has completed about 70 percent. Gila County said they also completed their hand-count of ballots, according to the Secretary of State's office. 

Last week, Pima County Elections Director Constance Hargove said she expected her department would wrap-up the recount by Dec. 11. In a memo to the Board of Supervisors, Hargove wrote she expected to begin logic and accuracy tests on Tuesday afternoon, and wrap-up the effort by Sunday afternoon, with plans for additional days as needed.

However, on Thursday night, Hargove told the Tucson Sentinel her department was close to finalizing results and expected to send the data to the Arizona Secretary of State as part of the state's recount procedure. With the recount completed, the county will shift to a hand-count audit.

The results of the entire recount will remain sealed until Dec. 22, when the totals will be presented to Judge Timothy J. Thomason in Phoenix.

The recount process was nearly held up last week after the Board of Supervisors for Cochise County refused to approve their canvass, ignoring the advice of their own legal counsel and the data presented by the county's election's director. Under state law, all Arizona counties are required to vote to approve the canvass — the formal report of the election results in each jurisdiction — before Nov. 28. 

However, last Thursday, a judge ordered the supervisors to approve their canvass, and two members of the Cochise County board — Democrat Ann English and Republican Peggy Judd — voted to approve the canvas. After appearing in court in an attempt to defend the county's refusal to submit the canvas, Cochise County Supervisor Tom Crosby, also a Republican, refused to attend the meeting.

After recount, lawsuits

While the recounts are ongoing, Hamadeh's campaign has filed two lawsuits seeking to change the results from Maricopa County.

The AG candidate filed a lawsuit on Nov. 22, arguing that problems with printers at Maricopa vote centers, along with failures to follow procedures to check-in or check-out voters who decided to leave before turning in a ballot, affected the outcome.

An analysis showed Maricopa officials may have simply pushed printers beyond their design capabilities, causing machines to reject thousands of ballots in the county in November because of the use of thicker paper—a requirement after voters alleged Sharpie pens could bleed through the paper resulted in miscast votes in 2020—and the large number of voters who arrived on Election Day after Republican attacked the state's long-running mail-in voting system.

The Republican National Committee joined Hamadeh in filing the lawsuit, writing they are not alleging any “fraud, manipulation or any other intentional wrongdoing that would impugn the outcomes of the November 8, 2022 general election."

However, lawyers for Hamadeh argued "errors and inaccuracies in the management of some polling operations," and the tabulation of some ballots caused the "unlawful denial of the franchise to certain qualified electors, erroneously tallied certain ballots, and included for tabulation in the canvass certain illegal votes in connection with the election for the office of Arizona Attorney General." 

However, a judge dismissed the suit, ruling that it was premature.

On Friday, Hamadeh's campaign filed a new lawsuit nearly identical to the first one, asking for a halt to the recount, and pushing for a judge to declare him the winner.

In the new lawsuit, Hamadeh's campaign—joined by Mohave County Assessor Jeanne Kentch and others—argued recorders and supervisors across the state had "in at least seven respects, caused the unlawful denial of the franchise to certain qualified electors, erroneously tallied certain ballots, and included for tabulation in the canvass certain illegal votes in connection with the election for the office of Arizona Attorney General."

While Kentch signed onto the lawsuit, along with another person from Mohave County, the entire lawsuit again focuses only on Maricopa County.

How narrow?

While Mayes holds a slim margin of victory in the pre-recount tally, it's not even close to being the closest statewide race in Arizona history.

In 1916, Gov. George WP Hunt, the state's first governor and the incumbent Democrat, won over Thomas Campbell by just 43 votes. At the time, Arizona's population was just 282,000 people.

Hunt's third election to what were then just two-year terms was not without controversy. Initial results showed Campbell had won by 30 votes, but Hunt refused to leave office until forced by the Arizona Supreme Court. He kept up his court fight, and more than a year after the election was declared the winner by 43 votes.

In 1918, Campbell won over Fred Colter by 339 votes, with Hunt not seeking re-election.

But Hunt ran again in 1922, winning three straight terms — including the 1926 contest with Elias Clark by 399 votes.

The previous closest race for attorney general was George Purdy Bullard's win over G.D. Christy by 1,650 votes in 1911, taking office as Arizona became a state in 1912. At the time, Arizona had just 212,000 residents.

The recount is unlikely to change the eventual outcome of the count released in November and approved by state officials this week.

Previous recounts in Arizona have not changed more than a handful of votes. In the 2014 congressional election between U.S. Rep. Ron Barber and GOP challenger Martha McSally, the Republican tacked on just 6 votes to her winning total after a recount ended the race on Dec. 17. McSally won that race by just 167 votes, out of 219,261 cast.

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