PHOENIX — The Trump campaign made a last-ditch effort Thursday to get a judge to order more ballots examined by hand and counted in Maricopa County in hopes of altering the state’s election results.
But even if Judge Daniel Kiley gives attorney Kory Langhofer what he wants, it is likely too little and too late to give the president the state’s 11 electoral votes.
There are only 191 ballots at issue. But the latest tally shows Democrat Joe Biden remains ahead of President Trump by nearly 12,000.
With fewer than 19,000 ballots left to be counted, the president essentially needs three votes of what’s left for every one of those that comes in for Biden.
By contrast, the latest data dump Thursday from Pima County shows that while Trump outpolled Biden, it was by a margin of just 147 votes out of 5,471 tallied between the two — plus another 119 for Libertarian Jo Jorgensen — not at a rate high enough to overtake the former vice president.
Even to get a statewide recount, Trump would have to come within 200 votes.
And legally required random hand-count audits of votes in various precincts have turned up no discrepancies between what the voting machines recorded and what was on the ballots.
None of that is keeping Langhofer, who also represents the state and national Republican parties, from asking Kiley to order a hand examination of all ballots that he said were not properly counted. He contends mistakes made by election workers resulted in some votes not being counted.
But Roopali Desai, who represents Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, accused the Trump campaign of having an ulterior motive in filing suit. She said it is trying to “present claims of fraud untethered from reliable and admissible evidence.”
“The desire to do that is to achieve a different goal that they have, which is to undermine the integrity and credibility of election results,” Desai told the judge. “We have an interest in preventing that damage.”
Deputy County Attorney Tom Liddy mounted his own defense of the counting process.
“Any allegation of systematic error or stealing the election is a direct insult to them,” he said.
Langhofer, however, stressed to Kiley that he was not saying anyone had done anything intentional.
“We are not alleging fraud in this lawsuit,” he told the judge.
“We’re not alleging anyone is ‘stealing the election,’ to use Mr. Liddy’s words,” Langhofer continued. “The allegation here is that, in what would appear to be a limited number of cases, there were good-faith errors in operating the (voting) machines that should result in further review of certain ballots.”
The problem appears to arise largely from “over votes,” meaning someone filled in more than one oval for a particular office.
Scott Jarrett, who is in charge of day-of voting for Maricopa County, said a ballot with an over vote cast on Election Day at a polling place is spit back out. He said the race with an over vote is highlighted on the screen of the machine.
At that point, he said the voter is given a choice: Get a new ballot or “press the green button” on the machine, casting the ballot anyway, knowing that any contest that has more than one vote will not be counted.
Jarrett acknowledged there is human review when a ballot that comes in the mail contains an over vote. He said that’s because the voter was unaware of the error.
By contrast, he said, there is no such review of ballots cast at polling places because the voter made a conscious decision to cast the ballot anyway after being informed by the tally machine that there was a problem.
That is precisely that kind of review that Langhofer wants Kiley to order.
He presented a parade of witnesses who said they were not informed that pressing the green button would mean one or more of their votes would not be counted because of the over vote. They also said that, contrary to rules, election workers were pressing that button to submit the ballot without asking for their approval, an allegation backed by a poll worker.
But under cross examination, each of the voters said they did not fill in the oval for more than one person for president. Instead, they expressed a more general fear that their votes did not count.
And Gina Swoboda, who was the state director of elections for the Trump campaign, the person who was responsible for reporting problems to election officials, conceded she had no firsthand knowledge that any vote for the president was not tallied.
“I have knowledge that voters believe that their votes weren’t counted,” she said.
All that leaves the question of whether any of this testimony actually would make a difference for Trump.
Jarrett said there were a total of 950 ballots for partisan races with over votes out of 156,875 ballots cast at polling places. But he said only 191 of these were in the presidential race.
Even if they all were to somehow go to the president there’s not enough to make a difference.
That has not convinced the president, who is convinced that Arizona’s 11 electoral votes are within his grasp.
“From 200,000 votes to less than 10,000 votes,” he said Thursday in a Twitter post. “If we can audit the total votes cast, we will win Arizona also.”
Only thing is, the legal issues before Kiley do not seek the kind of “total audit” that Trump claims will change the outcome. And there are no other lawsuits pending here.
The margins are such that even state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican like the president, has told Fox Business that the election is done and there just isn’t the fraud that Trump is suggesting.
He said if there was some “great conspiracy” to steal votes from Republicans “it apparently didn’t work” as shown by the fact that, with the exception of the presidential and U.S. Senate races, Republicans did fairly well in Arizona.
So far, though, Gov. Doug Ducey has remained silent about the results, other than to say that Trump is entitled to pursue his legal claim.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia