PHOENIX — A court ruled Monday that challengers to Joe Biden’s victory in Arizona can get documents they contend will cast doubt on the tally, even as top officials from both political parties certified the state’s election results as accurate the same day.
And an unofficial panel of nine Republican lawmakers that met Monday is looking to ask the full Legislature to void the official tally and give the state’s 11 electoral votes to President Trump — although legislative ability to do that legally remains in question.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner said he will allow attorneys for state GOP Chair Kelli Ward to compare the signatures on 100 randomly selected envelopes that contained early ballots with the signatures for those same voters already on file.
Warner also ordered Maricopa County to produce 100 random ballots cast at polling places that were damaged or had other problems, to compare with the versions that were reproduced to ensure they could be read by the machines.
That in turn will lead to a hearing on Thursday where Ward’s attorney Jack Wilenchik said he hopes to prove there were mistakes. He said that would allow Warner to extrapolate out the error rate and declare that the officially reported and certified results are in doubt.
More to the point, Wilenchik told Warner, that would require the judge to declare the results invalid.
And that in turn would leave it to the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature to decide who gets Arizona’s 11 electoral votes, Wilenchik said.
However, the formal canvass of votes by officials from both parties, conducted at the same time, certified that Biden got 10,457 more votes than Trump.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who backed Trump’s reelection bid, said Arizona’s election system is “strong.”
Ducey’s decision to sign the certification papers drew a rebuke from Trump, who called into the unofficial meeting of GOP lawmakers at a Phoenix hotel and said he had been watching their discussion of election issues.
Trump pointed out that Ducey’s signature on the official canvass put Democrat Mark Kelly into the Senate, immediately replacing Republican Martha McSally whom he defeated.
“You have a governor named Ducey who just rushed, couldn’t have gone faster, he just rushed to sign certificates so that Kelly gets into the Senate as soon as possible,” Trump said.
“Why would he sign when you have these incredible hearings going on that’s showing such corruption and such horrible fraud on the American people of Arizona?” Trump continued. “So you have to figure out, what’s that all about with Ducey?”
The president may actually have sought to convince the governor not to sign the certification.
Earlier in the day, as Ducey was inking his name to the certification papers, his cell phone went off with a ring tone of “Hail to the Chief,” which the governor had previously said was his direct link to the White House. Ducey did not answer it.
The governor’s press aide said he could not say whether Ducey ever spoke with Trump on Monday. But the president, in a separate Twitter post, clearly made known his displeasure with the governor: “Republicans will long remember!”
Absent a ruling by Warner, Monday’s certification would appear to set the stage for the 11 electors pledged to Biden to vote for him when the Electoral College meets on Dec. 14.
But Wilenchik said it doesn’t matter if there isn’t a final court ruling on Ward’s challenge before Dec. 14. Citing an 1892 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, he told the judge it said the U.S. Constitution ultimately gives Congress, when it convenes in January, authority to decide which electoral votes to count. He said that could be either those chosen through the popular vote or those who would be selected by the Arizona Legislature if Warner were to void the certified results and overturn the canvass.
Claims aired at hotel forum
It isn’t just the GOP party chair seeking to throw the issue to the Legislature.
In a more than seven-hour forum Monday, state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and a handful of colleagues heard testimony — none of it made under oath — of allegations of election fraud, which so far have been rejected by courts.
Finchem said they were weighing whether to prepare a report for all lawmakers urging them to overrule the canvassed popular vote.
“Not only do we have ballots that are improper but we have an election system that’s been hacked,” he said. Finchem contended there is statistical evidence the results could not be as reported.
Rudy Giuliani, representing the Trump reelection team, spoke at the unofficial hearing. His biggest attack was on mail-in voting.
What makes that significant is that Trump bested Biden in Arizona by nearly 124,000 votes in ballots cast at polling places. But Biden won the state because his mail-in vote exceeded the president’s by about 138,000.
Guiliani said there is an inherent insecurity in mail-in voting because signatures are compared and verified solely by election workers without oversight from party observers. He contends there are at least 100,000 ballots that lack sufficient proof of matched signatures. “These votes should be declared null and void,” he said.
That’s the same issue Wilenchik is raising. He has a team of handwriting experts who will do the comparisons.
The whole contention that election workers did not do their jobs right annoyed Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Joseph LaRue.
“Those who do the signature review receive training from the same folks who train FBI for signature analysis,” LaRue said.
State Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, had her own complaint about what she said might have been 36,000 ballots cast by people not in this country legally.
Ret. Col. Phil Waldren, presented as a cybersecurity expert, described what he said were inherent insecurities and potential for fraud in voting machines by Dominion Software, which is used in Maricopa County. Giuliani asserted that allowed 143,000 ghost votes to be “injected” into the system.
Matt Brainard of the Voter Integrity Project said his researchers called a sample of people whom he said requested an early ballot in Maricopa County and found 44% said they never requested it.
“It appears possible that someone else requested the ballot other than the voter of record,” Brainard said. He extrapolated that out to possibly 500,000 in Maricopa County alone.
“Something went wrong here,” he said. “You can’t be confident what the vote count is.”
Various official Republican election observers told the lawmakers they saw things about the process that lacked transparency or were legally questionable.
They included Linda Brickman, first vice chair of the Maricopa County Republican Party, who testified she saw Trump votes being tallied as Biden votes.
Path forward uncertain
The lawsuit and the unofficial hearing both have the same goal: Raise enough questions to allow state lawmakers to declare the results invalid and declare that Trump gets Arizona’s 11 electoral votes.
Less clear is whether and how that could happen.
The clearer path would appear to be a declaration by Warner — and ultimately the Arizona Supreme Court — that, based on the sampling he ordered, the results are in doubt.
More problematic for Trump supporters is what happens if the courts leave the results intact.
Finchem continues to insist that is irrelevant. And he brushed aside the fact that the meeting was not official — Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers refused to allow a formal one —or that none of the witnesses were under oath.
The Arizona Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate for lawmakers to call themselves into special session, but Finchem is undeterred.
“In the end, the people of the state of Arizona demand and, in fact, are entitled to know whether their trust has been violated and if they should seek redress for their grievances in the Legislature or the courts,” Finchem said.
Warner’s decision to even allow the lawsuit by Ward to go to a hearing drew opposition from Hobbs, the secretary of state. It amounts to an illegal “fishing expedition,” said Hobbs’ attorney, Roopali Desai.
“This sets a very dangerous precedent” of having people file suit because they think there was something wrong, she told the judge.
Desai said Ward “doesn’t have even a shred of proof that Maricopa County mistakenly accepted a single early ballot, to say nothing of enough to warrant overturning the results of a statewide election and nullifying the votes of over 3.42 million Arizonans.”
Warner conceded she may be right. But the judge said he would rather err on the side of allowing the case to proceed and then having the state Supreme Court tell him he was wrong, than to dismiss it and then be told he has to start over again with time running out.
This is actually the fifth lawsuit seeking to challenge the results. Earlier ones, including one based on claims of misuse of Sharpies on ballots and election workers pressing the “green button” to have problem ballots submitted anyway, all have been dismissed.