Hamadeh’s election challenge shot down by judge
Abraham Hamadeh’s bid to throw out the results of the race for Arizona attorney general that he lost based on unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct failed to convince a Mohave County Superior Court Judge on Friday.
Judge Lee Jantzen dismissed the case after attorneys sparred over just 14 ballots submitted as evidence.
“The bottom line is you just haven’t proven your case, you haven’t met the burden,” Jantzen said.
Earlier this month, Hamadeh filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn his 511-vote loss to Democratic Attorney General-elect Kris Mayes, claiming that thousands of erroneously counted votes and election worker misconduct cost him a victory. The claims relied on speculation and conjectures that Hamadeh’s lawyer, Timothy La Sota, said would be supported by a close inspection of ballots in Navajo, Maricopa and Pima counties. Incorrectly adjudicated ballots and undervotes would reveal that Hamadeh was denied votes, La Sota claimed.
An undervote can occur when a ballot has marks that a tabulator can’t decipher, or when a voter fails to make a valid selection in a specific race, for example. Adjudication, meanwhile, is the process by which a panel of election workers determines the intent of a voter when the ballot is too illegible for a tabulator to read.
In the end, La Sota only submitted 14 ballots from Maricopa County as examples of erroneously counted — or uncounted — votes, as many as six of which he claimed should have counted toward Hamadeh. The 14 ballots were separated from an inspection of around 2,600 ballots determined to be undervotes out of 50,000 total ballots inspected in the county. Notably, no ballots from either Pima or Navajo county were added as evidence.
“We did see a trend in favor of Mr. Hamadeh as we suspected. It’s not a monumental trend,” La Sota admitted.
To win an election challenge, any claims of misconduct must be proven and have enough of an effect to put the race’s final count in doubt. La Sota noted that he hoped to file another request to inspect more ballots, but that request was ultimately rendered moot by Jantzen’s ruling.
Among the ballots submitted as proof that election workers failed to properly adjudicate votes was one in which a voter filled in the bubble for Mayes and also wrote Mayes’ name in the write-in section. Another voter alternated between scribbling over the Republican candidate and filling in bubbles. That voter appeared to cast a vote in favor of Hamadeh in the attorney general’s race but election workers couldn’t be sure because of the inconsistent selection pattern. The fact that neither vote was properly counted toward the candidates they seemed to support indicated that errors occurred in the election, La Sota posited.
In his closing remarks, La Sota requested that the uncounted ballots be added to either Mayes’ or Hamadeh’s count, saying Jantzen has the authority to infer the voter’s intent himself and adjust the tallies accordingly. He admitted that the number gained for Hamadeh was insufficient to overcome the 511-vote margin, but said it’s important to count every vote regardless.
Mayes’ attorney, Dan Barr, slammed La Sota for failing to make his case. Not only did he waste the court’s time by not bringing forth evidence that Hamadeh won more votes than Mayes, but he abandoned most of the claims made in his original lawsuit, Barr said.
In his original complaint, Hamadeh alleged that Election Day issues in Maricopa County arising from malfunctioning on-demand printers resulted in hundreds of disenfranchised voters. Attorneys for Maricopa County, La Sota admitted, successfully disputed that claim in a previous hearing, when they attested that 109 out of 146 voters who were affected and given provisional ballots were counted.
Another claim that as many as 1,942 provisional ballots were incorrectly rejected remained uncertain, La Sota said, because he was not provided with a list of provisional ballot recipients to check against the allegations Hamadeh’s campaign received. That request was denied by the judge because, under state law, only ballots can be inspected in an election contest.
A third allegation that duplicated ballots across the state resulted in incorrectly counted votes was not proven because of time constraints that resulted in fewer ballots being examined, La Sota said. Finally, the claim that ballots were mis-adjudicated rested on the 14 ballots presented in court on Friday. The scant evidence, La Sota said, was a product of limited time and discovery, but he maintained that the ballots presented on Friday were still important to consider.
“Given the ballots we’ve been able to present (and) given the compressed time, we’ve been able to clearly show a trend in favor of Mr. Hamadeh as we alleged in our complaint,” he said. “If you extrapolate the numbers, they’re not going to get us to 511-votes and we do concede that.”
Jantzen wasn’t convinced, noting that all that the 14 ballots showed was voter error — errors that Maricopa County election officials worked to rectify to the best of their abilities, putting in doubt La Sota’s claims that election workers engaged in misconduct.
“There isn’t enough information,” Jantzen said, in his closing remarks. “I wouldn’t even think there’s even slight information that something was done illegally or incorrectly.”
Jantzen rejected La Sota’s request that the uncounted ballots be added to the final tally, saying it was beyond the court’s authority.
The statutorily triggered recount of the attorney general’s race, which was delayed during the trial, is expected on Dec. 29.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.