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Congress certifies Arizona's 11 electoral votes for Biden; here's the backstory

Congress certifies Arizona's 11 electoral votes for Biden; here's the backstory

  • Updated

Arizona finally got its 11 electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden counted late Wednesday after Congress reconvened, and after a majority of federal lawmakers rejected claims that the tally here was unreliable.

The ratification of Biden’s 10,457-vote victory in Arizona came after just six senators refused to accept the results.

In the House, the number refusing was larger, at 121. But that compares with 303 who found the objection led by Arizona Republican U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs to be not credible.

Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer found themselves on the same side of the issue as the upper chamber began debate on objections to the Electoral College vote that is unfolding in Congress Wednesday.

Foes of the state’s certified election results raised a series of arguments, but the story behind each is more complex.

Biggs in particular cited what he said were 32,000 illegal votes.

What actually happened is a federal judge agreed with two groups who said the pandemic interfered with their ability to register Arizonans to vote by the Oct. 5 deadline. The judge extended the voter registration cutoff to Oct. 23 for everyone.

That decision was overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But a majority of the three-judge panel said anyone who had registered in the interim could vote in the Nov. 3 general election.

Biggs said that was “without justification” and that the inclusion of those voters makes the results of the entire election suspect.

The actual tally of people registered in that period according to the Secretary of State’s Office was 35,134.

What Biggs did not say is that more Republicans signed up during that period than Democrats: 10,922 versus 8,292. There also were 15,422 independents and 498 Libertarians.

Federal lawmakers seeking to disallow the results and demand an audit argued that it’s irrelevant that state and federal judges rejected various claims of fraud and irregularity. They said these lawsuits were tossed on technical grounds and that courts never actually addressed the merits of the allegations.

That fails to tell the whole story.

Consider the claim of the Arizona Republican Party over the audit procedures used in Maricopa County.

Party lawyers argued Arizona law requires the sampling of ballots of 2% of precincts to compare the machine tally with a hand count. Instead, the county, and some other counties, — audited the ballots of 2% of vote centers, centralized locations where anyone could cast a ballot rather than going to his or her home precinct.

The party waited far too long to bring its suit, said Maricopa County Superior Court John Hannah.

He pointed out that Maricopa County used voting centers in the presidential preference election in March and in the state’s primary election in August — and that the party didn’t object to the audit procedures in either case. In fact, Hannah said, the state GOP did not raise any concerns ahead of the Nov. 3 general election even though the county informed Republican and Democratic party officials about the upcoming audit process.

Even if that were not the case, Hannah said the challengers were misreading the law.

In a separate case, a federal judge dismissed the claims of the 11 would-be Republican electors who sued Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and tried to have the results thrown out based on claims that Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs conspired with various foreign and domestic individuals and companies to manipulate the results and allow Biden to win.

U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa said federal courts can hear cases only in which challengers have standing. That requires the challengers to show an actual injury, that the injury is fairly traceable to the conduct they are challenging, and that their injury could be addressed by a favorable court ruling, the judge said.

In this case, she said, the 11 suffered no injury as they, themselves, were not candidates for office but, under Arizona law, have a purely “ministerial function” to cast their ballots for the presidential candidate who got the most votes.

Humetewa did not ignore the underlying claims. “The allegations they put forth to support their claims of fraud fail in the particularity and plausibility,” she wrote.

“Plaintiffs append over 300 pages of attachments, which are only impressive for their volume,” Humetewa said. “The various affidavits and expert reports are largely based on anonymous witnesses, hearsay, and irrelevant analysis of unrelated decisions.”

Other courts also looked at the various allegations and found them lacking.

Kelli Ward, who chairs the Arizona Republican Party, complained about what happens when ballots are rejected by counting machines because they have stray marks, are damaged, or an individual appears to vote for more than one person for an office.

That requires the ballots to be “adjudicated” by election workers, one from each political party, to determine the intent of the voter. That adjudication panel then prepares a new ballot, reflecting the consensus, that can be fed through counting machines.

Ward produced witnesses who said they saw errors in the process, claiming that ballots that should have been marked for President Trump were instead prepared for Biden, or otherwise altering them so that Trump would not get the vote.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner ordered inspections of more than 1,600 of these adjudicated ballots. That review found nine errors, seven cases where the vote should have gone to Trump and two where it should have gone to Biden.

Ward argued that amounts to an error rate of slightly more than 0.5% in a race where the difference between the candidates statewide was just 0.3% of the total.

But Warner concluded — and the Arizona Supreme Court agreed — that error rate applies only to the 27,859 duplicated ballots in Maricopa County. And at best, he said, it added no more than 155 votes for Trump, far short of what would be needed to change the outcome.

Ward argued that she would have been able to prove greater error had she been allowed to examine every adjudicated ballot in the state. But the trial judge said time had run out because of the federal law setting Dec. 14 as the date Arizona’s 11 electors would cast their votes.

Closely related was the “Sharpiegate” lawsuit claiming that pens used at Maricopa County vote centers bled through to the other side of the two-sided ballot and changed votes. But the state Attorney General’s Office concluded there was no basis to believe ballots were left uncounted based on a bleed-through of ink.

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