Days after the election, Arizona Republicans were still hoping to pull out a “win” for President Donald Trump, whether or not it ends up mattering on a national level—and even if it takes going to court.
Attorneys for the Trump reelection committee and the state and national Republican parties filed suit Nov. 8 contending that procedures used in Maricopa County resulted in the choices of some voters not being tallied. They want a judge to bar the election results from being certified until certain disputed ballots are reviewed.
The lawsuit came as tallies Nov. 8 added 32,478 new votes for the incumbent over the previous figures, compared to 23,835 for Democrat Joe Biden. That put Trump about 21,000 votes of taking the lead.
The vote count Nov. 10 brought Trump within 15,000 votes of Biden in Arizona.
More to the point for Republicans, the daily spread gives the president about 57.7% of the votes between him and Biden. That is close to a rate that GOP officials contend, if it continues, is enough to make up the difference by the time all the votes are tallied.
Gov. Doug Ducey sent out a statement Nov. 9.
“In Arizona, we are still counting the votes, with roughly 75,000 to 80,000 left,” he said. “Our expectation is that we finish counting. We’ve been through this drill before in Arizona. Making it easy to vote and hard to cheat has also resulted in time consuming efforts to ensure the integrity of our elections.”
Ducey said the race was still in question.
“We’ve already seen the outcome of races change to a dramatic degree, and some results remain unclear. The president, just like any other candidate, has the right to all available legal challenges and remedies, and we are confident they will be properly adjudicated. We will respect the election results,” Ducey said.
State GOP spokesman Zach Henry said Nov. 7 that, as far as the party is concerned, nothing has changed from the day before, when party Chair Kelli Ward argued there is a path to victory for the president. In fact, he said, the Nov. 7 numbers only “reinforce it.”
But that didn’t stop the party from filing suit.
The litigation concerns what happens when automated equipment at polling locations rejects a ballot due to defects, stray marks or other problems.
Voters have an option to cast a new ballot. They also can deposit it into a separate drawer within the device, with the idea that humans at the counting center will review it and determine the voter’s intent.
But attorney Kory Langhofer said what has happened is that some voters, based on advice from poll workers, simply chose to have the problematic ballots submitted as is, meaning no further review.
What that means, he said, is that if a field on the ballot contains what the machinery considers a defect or irregularity, the voter’s intended selections will not be tabulated “even if the voter’s intent could be discerned by a visual review of the ballot.”
It is that visual review that Langhofer wants a judge to order of those ballots once they are identified.
There was no immediate response from Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes (who was narrowly losing his election bid).
The Democrats, for their part, were more than anxious to declare victory.
“Arizona has delivered its 11 Electoral College votes to now President-elect Joe Biden,” said party Chair Felecia Rotellini in a prepared statement Nov. 7.
“We are a part of the broadest coalition ever assembled by a Democratic presidential nominee in Arizona,” she said. “We built the kind of team we needed to succeed.”
Rotellini also boasted about Arizona having two Democrat U.S. senators from Arizona for the first time in 50 years, as Mark Kelly wiped out the bid by Martha McSally to keep the Senate seat she got last year from Gov. Doug Ducey that used to belong to John McCain. Kelly gets just the last two years of McCain’s original term before he has to seek reelection in 2022.
McSally banked on her loyalty to Trump to carry her over the top. But as it ended up, she got even fewer votes in Arizona than the president.
Ducey, for his part, defended his decision to tap McSally for the vacant post on the heels of her having just lost the 2018 Senate election to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.
“The governor is very proud of his appointment,” Ducey press aide Patrick Ptak told Capitol Media Services. He called McSally “an exceptional public servant who has delivered again and again for her constituents.”
Despite the votes for Biden and Kelly, other Democrat challengers further down the ticket did not do as well.
None of the Democrat contenders were able to unseat Republicans in the U.S. House. That even includes Rep. David Schweikert, who got slapped with a $50,000 fine for multiple ethics violations.
Democrat hopes of taking the state House—or even picking up a single seat to get a 30-30 tie—also quickly faded.
Democrat Judy Schwiebert did manage to pick up a House seat in LD 20, ousting incumbent Republican Anthony Kern of Glendale. But that gain was offset by the loss of Democrat Gerae Peten, who gave up her seat to Republican newcomer Joel John in LD 4 in the district that runs from the western suburbs of Phoenix to Yuma.
Across the courtyard, Democrat Christine Marsh was outpolling incumbent Republican Kate Brophy McGee in the district covering north-central Phoenix and Paradise Valley. But the latest numbers gave the challenger an edge of fewer than 600 votes, which, depending on where the uncounted ballots are coming from, may or may not be enough.
And even if Marsh wins, it still leaves Republicans with a 16-14 edge in the Senate.
Even further down the ticket, Fontes was running behind Republican challenger Stephen Richer.
Rotellini said she was not discouraged by the results.
“I think we held our own,” she told Capitol Media Services Nov. 8.
“I will agree that we weren’t as successful as we thought we would be,” Rotellini said. “And that means we need to go back and recalibrate, study the data, and see where we excelled and where we could have had opportunities but didn’t.”
One reason that Republicans are continuing to fight in Arizona is that the results here could become meaningful if there is litigation in Pennsylvania that wipes out the 20 electoral votes that apparently went to Biden Nov. 7.
That includes an order by Justice Samuel Alito requiring election officials in that state to separate out the ballots that came in after Election Day.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had earlier ruled that any ballot postmarked by the deadline should be counted. But the Trump campaign contends that the U.S. Constitution empowers only the state legislature to make such decisions.
Alito, however, did not forbid the state from counting those late-arriving ballots. But it opens the door for them being removed from the totals should the full high court side with the Republicans.
Also still at play are the 16 electoral votes from Georgia, where Biden was last leading, and 15 in North Carolina, where Trump was ahead.