Mayes wins Arizona attorney general race by 280 votes over Hamadeh after recount
Update: Pinal County points to 'human error' for 100s of added votes; Memo raises legal questions; Recount confirms victory for Dem
Kris Mayes maintained her win in the race for Arizona attorney general after the results of a recount were released Thursday, with the Democrat prevailing by 280 votes over Republican Abe Hamadeh.
Both candidates picked up votes in the recount, with Hamadeh gaining more votes — but not enough to overcome the winning margin for Mayes.
While most counties reported no changes or differences of just a handful of votes between the initial certified election results and the recounted ballots, Pinal County reported a change of 392 more votes for Hamadeh and 115 more votes for Mayes.
Pinal, which is controlled by a Republican Board of Supervisors, had numerous problems throughout its primary and general elections. The county was the last to report significant numbers in the November election, and the last to turn in the final results of the recount. Officials repeatedly said that various "human errors" were behind the changed numbers. But even if Pinal's explanations check out, online searches show the county may have broken the law by releasing recount results before they were unsealed by a judge.
The recount results were announced in court Thursday morning after several attempts by Republicans to overturn the tallies of the November election were denied by Arizona judges.
Maricopa County, accused repeatedly of wrongdoing by GOP candidates — despite also being controlled by Republicans on the county board — reported just five additional votes for both of the attorney general candidates after the recount.
While Hamadeh refused to concede the race and questioned the results of the recount on Thursday, Mayes said she was "thankful to everyone who took their time to vote, and democracy truly is a team sport."
In the canvassed results of the November general election, Mayes was declared the winner with 1,254,613 votes to Hamadeh's 1,254,102.
The initial 511-vote lead for Mayes was narrow enough to trigger an automatic recount under state law. Earlier this year, the state Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey expanded the threshold for a recount from a 0.1% margin to 0.5%. Under the previous standard, the race would not have gone to a recount.
After the recount, the lead for Mayes was cut to 1,254,809 votes to 1,254,529 for the GOP candidate. Mayes had 196 votes added to her total, while Hamadeh picked up 427 votes.
Pinal County was the source of 507 of the 631 votes that were changed or added during the recount across the state. Several counties reported no changes at all.
Pinal officials attributed the changes to "human error" but did not publicly provide many specifics about the causes of the shifts in votes Thursday, and said that they would "report any further findings and recommendations... likely in February."
The total changes in votes for the two AG candidates amounted to 0.00025% of the votes cast in the race across the state, including the 3,052 write-in votes.
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The two largest counties in the state had minor vote changes — 10 votes added (five each for both candidates) in Maricopa County and minus 2 votes for Hamadeh in Pima County.
Pima officials praised their top elections staffers, noting that Elections Director Constance Hargrove and Deputy Director Jeremy George were new hires in 2022, who had to "learn Arizona's election laws and procedures on the fly, and implement a new elections system."
"They put together a phenomenal team and ran a nearly flawless election," officials tweeted. In Pima County, the recount "only had a change of 2 votes out of 393,612 cast for AG. That's a 0.000005% difference."
"Thanks also the more than 2,000 people who signed up to be elections workers for the primary and the general," the county said. "American democracy wouldn't work if not for tens of thousands of Americans willing to step and and spend many long hours and days making sure all the votes are counted."
Hamdeh hints at further court action
Hamadeh said his "legal team will be assessing our options to make sure every vote is counted," and declared "the outcome of this election is uncertain" after the recount results were unsealed by the judge.
"A discrepancy this big in the recount calls for an inspection of ALL the ballots," the Republican candidate tweeted. Arizona law requires that counties explain any discrepancies between the initial canvassed count and the recounted totals to the Secretary of State's Office, but do not provide for further counts to be undertaken.
The judge's announcement of the recount numbers "constitutes the official result of the recounted race," the state Elections Procedures Manual lays out.
The Secretary of State's Office has yet to publicly release those reports on the discrepancies between the recount and the canvassed results, but provided the Tucson Sentinel with the numbers reported by the counties.
Pinal 'human errors'
Pinal publicly posted its initial memorandum, dated Dec. 21, laying out some of the reasons for the differences, along with an update sent to the Secretary of State's Office on Thursday.
But Google search results show that county officials may have initially posted that memo and the recount results online last week. Under state law, the results are to be kept sealed until announced in court. Searches indicated Thursday that the PDF document was first posted online "8 days ago."
Pinal officials said that "the purpose of a recount is to ensure accurate vote totals are put forth, as it is reasonable to expect some level of human error in a dynamic, high-stress, deadline intensive process involving counting hundreds of thousands of ballots."
In fact, there were 142,372 votes reviewed in the recount in Pinal County, not "hundreds of thousands."
The recount "identified a roughly five hundred vote undercount in the Pinal County election attributable to human error," Pinal officials said. That was a .35% variance, they said. "Although not perfect, this consistency rate is within the state’s predetermined .5% statutory margin."
County officials said that "the canvass was filed prior to taking an adequate opportunity to investigate any possible anomalies we could discern from polling place returns." They indicated at least one possible anomaly they may have been aware of before the canvass was approved by the Board of Supervisors.
"Possibly a hundred or more voters" were affected when poll pads would not scan their drivers licenses, because that data was not properly downloaded, officials said. But those voters were each given a ballot after phone confirmation that they were indeed registered to vote.
That check-in problem led officials to open a locked ballot box, in which they found 600 ballots, not the 422 recorded as being tabulated on Election Day. Three other ballot boxes were opened and the ballots physically counted. All three "had more ballots than were reported on Election Day," officials said.
In all, 442 ballots cast on Election Day that were not included in the canvassed numbers, but were found in the recount, they said.
Some issues with handling write-in votes and the fact that federal-only ballots were not included in the recount (because they do not contain any of the races in question) led to differences in other tallies of canvassed and recounted ballots, they said, but did not mean any additional ballots were added to the count.
63 additional ballots with check marks or Xs for chosen candidates were found, and added to the overall results after being adjudicated. Voting machines were not properly set to sort out those ballots, again due to "human error," Pinal officials said.
Pinal officials said they have "not been able to reconcile" 2 other ballots.
Pinal will investigate further, "leaving no stone unturned" to ensure future elections are "conducted with the strongest, most failsafe procedures," they said.
"Until then, in light of threatened litigation and rumored appeals, Pinal County can make no further comment at this time," they said.
Judge cracks wise from bench
Neither of the candidates attended the hearing, which began just after 10 a.m. Thursday.
With just a small cluster of lawyers and observers at the Maricopa County Superior Court, Judge Timothy Thomason, who was overseeing the recount, joked for a moment about the suspense before announcing the recount results.
"I can't help but think of, for those of us who are old enough here, Johnny Carson," he said, drawing smiles and chuckles from the attorneys for both side with a reference to the late-night TV host's character "Carnac the Magnificent."
"I think there's a funny hat for you somewhere," said Timothy La Sota, the attorney for Hamadeh.
Thomason cracked open the sealed envelope with the results and reviewed them for nearly a minute in near-silence, with only noises in the courtroom the rustling of papers and a few murmurs from the judge: "Declaration and order, OK."
"This court has been provided the secretary of state's declaration of recount results," he then said, and announced the vote totals, repeating each count from the bench.
The judge had first shot down a move by Hamadeh to delay the release of the recount results, with his attorneys citing online rumors, spread by conservative activists and remarked on by reporters, that there were significant discrepancies in a "rural county."
Hamdeh's false claims about the election continued even Thursday morning, as he declared "Democracy dies in darkness" while retweeting a mistaken tweet by a freelance reporter for conservative publications that the hearing was not being livestreamed. The hearing was in fact livestreamed on the Maricopa County Superior Court website.
The results of the recount were delayed for a week after Hamadeh filed a lawsuit to contest the election.
Under Arizona law, recount proceedings must "abate" while election challenges are reviewed by the courts.
Last Tuesday, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs asked the court last week to delay a Dec. 22 hearing to unseal the results of the completed recount, citing Hamadeh's ongoing lawsuit, and the fact that not all of the counties had even delivered their results to her office, as legally required. While Santa Cruz and Yavapai counties provided their counts to the Secretary of State's Office that same day, Pinal County did not update their recount results until last Thursday.
Hamadeh blasted Hobbs for moving to push back the release of the recount figures, despite the delay being legally required. Then on Thursday, the attorneys for Hamadeh themselves moved to postpone the release of the results, based on the reported rumors about a change in the results.
Judge Thomason denied that motion. At the conclusion of the hearing in Maricopa County Superior Court, after the results were announced from the bench, Hamadeh's lawyers again moved to delay the judge filing an order to declare Mayes the winner.
"The request is denied," Thomason concisely said, ending the hearing.
As expected, because the margins in those races were larger, the recount did not change the outcome of the elections for Arizona superintendent of public instruction, won by Tom Horne, and the LD 13 House race. Those three races were the only ones that triggered the automatic recount provision.
Pinal also had a large variance in the race for superintendent of public instruction. Although it wasn't as close as the AG's race across the state, errors in Pinal's count found another 385 votes added to the total for winning Republican challenger Horne, and 117 more votes for incumbent Democrat Kathy Hoffman.
The election results mean Democrats won many of Arizona's top statewide offices — with Hobbs moving up to the governor's desk, Adrian Fontes taking over as secretary of state, and Mayes becoming attorney general.
Thanking her "campaign, transition and legal teams," Mayes said "I'm excited and ready to get to work as your next attorney general and vow to be your lawyer for the people. Onward..."
Republican Kimberly Yee was easily re-elected as state treasurer, and the recount confirmed Horne's win over incumbent Kathy Hoffman. The GOP also carried the two open seats on the Corporation Commission, and Paul Marsh was unopposed in the race for state mine inspector.
Failed election lawsuits
Hamadeh’s lawsuit to toss out the results of the election and have himself declared the winner, based on unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct, failed to convince a Mohave County judge last week.
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.
Kari Lake, the losing candidate for Arizona governor, also failed to convince a judge that he should declare her the winner of her election. Lake lost to Hobbs by 17,000 votes in November, but echoed Trumpist claims of a "stolen election" and sued to have the election overturned.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson rejected her challenge last week after a two-day trial in which the court repeatedly allowed hearsay to be brought up by Lake's witnesses. Despite the leeway afforded to them, Lake's attorneys did not provide "clear and convincing evidence" of their claims, the judge ruled.
A claim of election wrongdoing filed by losing GOP secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem was also rejected by an Arizona court. Another lawsuit that sought to overturn the election for governor, attempted by state Sen. Sonny Borrelli, was tossed out of court.
While Mayes held a slim margin of victory in the canvassed results, those numbers were not even near 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.
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.