Arizona officials seek dismissal of Donald Trump’s election suit

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President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Des Moines International Airport, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Attorneys defending Arizona election officials argued Thursday that the Donald Trump campaign’s lawsuit that seeks the manual inspection of Election Day ballots in metro Phoenix should be dismissed because the campaign hasn’t proven systematic errors in the way poll workers handled ballots that were rejected by tabulation machines.

President Donald Trump’s challenge is seeking to bar the certification of election results until such a manual inspection is completed of ballots that contained “overvotes,” instances in which people voted for more candidates than permitted. Of the 166,000 ballots cast on Election Day in Maricopa County, 961 contained overvotes, including 191 overvotes cast in the presidential race.

The case was being heard as Democrat Joe Biden held an advantage of about 11,000 votes over Trump in Arizona as 7 p.m. Thursday, with about 16,000 ballots left to count across the state.

The lawsuit alleges tabulation machines rejected some ballots due to ink splotches and that poll workers either pressed or told voters to press a green button on the device to override the error, resulting in some ballot selections being disregarded. While Trump’s lawyers initially said there could potentially be thousands of Trump votes within the ballots in question, they now say that number would be lower.

The attorneys defending election officials argue Trump is in effect seeking a recount, which isn’t allowed in Arizona unless the margin between candidates is 200 votes or less, or one-tenth of 1% of the votes cast, whichever is the smaller number. The Trump campaign said it isn’t seeking a recount — it’s asking for the counting of ballots that were never tabulated.

Roopali Desai, an attorney representing Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, vigorously disputed the campaign’s claim that overvotes require the county to conduct a manual inspection of the ballots. Scott Jarrett, director of Election Day and emergency voting for Maricopa County, testified that he wasn’t aware of any mistakes in which poll workers inappropriately pressed the override button on Election Day.

Three Trump voters testified that they voted for only one person in the presidential race but still wondered whether their votes were counted because poll workers pressed the override button after their ballots were spit out of tabulators, without explaining the consequences of hitting that button.

One of the voters in question, Laura Christians, said her father, who served as a poll worker for more than 35 years, told her that the process she witnessed was incorrect. “I kind of put my own hypothesis together. I don’t know if my vote was counted or did not count,” Christians said.

Trump campaign attorney Kory Langhofer told the judge that the lawsuit challenges good-faith errors made in the counting of ballots. “We are not alleging fraud in this lawsuit,” Langhofer said. “We are not alleging that anyone is stealing the election here.”

Hobbs’ office has called the challenge filed by the Trump campaign a repackaged version of the now-dismissed #Sharpiegate lawsuit over the use of markers to complete Election Day ballots in Maricopa County. Her office said Trump’s lawsuit in Arizona was aimed at sowing confusion and undermining the democratic process.

In a separate lawsuit Thursday, the Arizona Republican Party asked a court to order Maricopa County to make a change in how it conducts a random hand-count audit of a sampling of ballots as a quality control measure.

The lawsuit asks for the sample to be taken on a precinct level, rather than among the county’s new vote centers, which let people vote at any location across the county. The party said there are far fewer vote centers than there were precincts and that hand counting by precinct could result in a more precise sampling of votes that allows for more reliable comparisons of data from past elections.

The Maricopa County Elections Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In a letter Thursday to Arizona legislative leaders, Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office said it has suggested to Maricopa County that it consider increasing the percentage of ballots to be audited from 2% to 5%.

“Although not required, it is certainly permitted and may help alleviate much of the concern that has been expressed in the past week about the integrity of the vote tabulation process,” wrote Joe Kanefield, Brnovich’s chief of staff.

The attorney general’s office isn’t a party to the lawsuit.

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.