An Arizona judge on Friday rejected a challenge to the state’s presidential election results, dealing yet another loss to Trump and his allies in their effort to circumvent the popular vote count in battleground states around the country.
Judge Randall Warner of the Maricopa County Superior County found that plaintiff Kelli Ward, the chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party, had identified several errors in ballot processing. But those few errors did not amount to a wide-scale problem that should cast doubt on Joe Biden’s victory or result in the annulment of the votes cast by more than 3.3 million Arizonans, Warner concluded.
“The court finds no misconduct, no fraud and no effect on the outcome of the election,” Warner wrote in a decision issued Friday after an evidentiary hearing that spanned two days. “Plaintiff has not proven that the Biden/Harris ticket did not receive the highest number of votes.”
Ward is expected to appeal the ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court. Trump and his allies had previously lost several post-election lawsuits in Arizona. Another alleging widespread fraud and conspiracy is still pending in federal court, and a second formal election contest was filed in state court Friday by a group of plaintiffs represented by the conservative Thomas More Society.
Ward filed her formal election contest on Monday, immediately after state officials certified Arizona’s results. To prevail in such an elections contest, the plaintiff has to show that elections officials engaged in misconduct, that illegal votes were counted, or that enough errors were made in vote-counting that the wrong candidate was named winner.
Ward argued that Maricopa County officials engaged in “misconduct” when they allegedly failed to allow adequate access to observers of ballot processing. Warner dismissed that key claim at the start of the two-day evidentiary hearing, finding that Republicans should have lodged those allegations earlier, when the alleged problem was ongoing and could be fixed. On Friday, he dismissed her remaining claims, writing that “for the Court to nullify an election that State election officials have declared valid is an extraordinary act to be undertaken only in extraordinary circumstances.”
Ward had argued that there were widespread errors with the duplication of damaged ballots, a process by which a bipartisan group of election workers looks at the original ballot to determine the voter’s intent and then fills out a clean, machine-readable ballot accordingly. During an inspection of 1,626 duplicated ballots, her lawyers identified nine mistakes which, if corrected, would result in a net gain of six votes for Trump. If the same error rate held true for the more than 27,000 duplicated ballots countywide, Trump would gain just over 100 additional votes, county officials testified.
Biden won the state by more than 10,000 votes.
Warner noted that 99.45 percent of duplicated ballots were error-free, “and there is no evidence that the inaccuracies were intentional or part of a fraudulent scheme. They were mistakes.”
Finally, Ward argued that Maricopa County’s signature-verification process was too lax and therefore wrongly allowed a large number of mail ballots to be counted. In an inspection of signatures on 100 mail ballots, forensic handwriting experts hired by Ward and by the defendants, the state’s 11 Democratic electors for Biden, said they found several matches to be “inconclusive” because there were not very many signatures on file to which they could compare the ballot signature. But they found no evidence of any fraud.
Ward’s lawyer, Jack Wilenchik, had argued Friday that “very serious problems” had been revealed and asked Warner to either annul Biden’s victory or put off making a decision in the case until Republicans could inspect hundreds of thousands more ballots statewide. Under federal law, states are supposed to choose their presidential electors by Dec. 8 and cast their votes on Dec. 14. Wilenchik has argued that the real deadline for choosing electors is Jan. 6, when Congress meets to count the votes — or even as late as Jan. 20, when the next president is inaugurated.
Warner rejected both of Wilenchik’s requests and instead confirmed the results of the election.
Also on Friday, the Republican speaker of the Arizona House firmly rejected calls from Trump’s campaign for the legislature to disregard the popular vote and declare Trump the winner of the state’s 11 electoral votes.
“As a conservative Republican, I don’t like the results of the presidential election. I voted for President Trump and worked hard to reelect him,” Rusty Bowers said in a statement. “But I cannot and will not entertain a suggestion that we violate current law to change the outcome of a certified election.”