Republicans want to make it easier to challenge election results in court
GOP lawmakers approved a bill that would expand the rules to include the things Kari Lake and Abe Hamadeh claimed
A GOP proposal that would change the rules for court challenges of election results in Arizona targets many of the issues that plagued the 2022 election suits of Republican candidates Kari Lake and Abe Hamadeh.
The legislation would expand the reasons a person can challenge an election for illegal votes to include ballots with a broken chain of custody and ballot envelopes with inconsistent signatures or voter information.
Both of those were central parts of the legal challenges brought by Lake, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate who made a failed bid for governor in 2022. In unsuccessful court challenges aiming to reverse her loss, she claimed that broken chain of custody for hundreds of thousands of early ballots returned on Election Day and mismatching signatures on early ballot affidavits rendered enough votes illegal to overturn the results of the election. She lost the race by more than 17,000 votes.
The trial, appeals and Arizona Supreme courts all threw out Lake’s challenges, with judges finding that she never proved that any ballots were submitted illegally or that the signature verification process failed.
House Bill 2472, sponsored by Rep. Cory McGarr, R-Tucson, would also allow the person or group that files an election challenge in the courts to physically examine all ballots, ballot images and early ballot envelopes in that race, as well as the voters registration records. And even though election contests are on a fast-tracked schedule, it instructs the courts to give “ample time” to do so.
In addition, the bill would give all parties in the suit the right to full discovery of evidence, something that is currently limited in election challenge cases, because of time constraints.
“Our courts are not very good at handling election challenges,” said Rep. Justin Heap, a Mesa Republican.
Courts generally operate on a much slower timeline than is needed to resolve election contests, he said, adding that this bill is ultimately about extending the time that those challenging the results of an election have to review evidence.
Hamadeh, who lost the race for Attorney General to Democrat Kris Mayes by just 280 votes, is still fighting the results of that race in court. Hamadeh lost his initial challenge after submitting only 14 ballots — out of 2,600 examined — to the court that he claimed were erroneously counted or left uncounted.
The judge ultimately ruled that those ballots were only examples of voter error, but Hamadeh argued that the limits on time and discovery of evidence stopped his team from finding more ballots that were incorrectly counted.
Some backers of McGarr’s bill say that Hamadeh’s and Lake’s losses prove nothing.
“If it’s limited to this short timeline, the case can’t be made — not because it’s invalid, but because they don’t have time,” Heap said.
Election challenges have an abbreviated timeline compared to other court cases to ensure that the true winner of a race is the one who takes office. Lake’s initial challenge to the results of the 2022 governor’s race was decided Dec. 24, 2022. Her opponent, Katie Hobbs was sworn in as governor Jan. 2, 2023.
McGarr’s bill also proposes sending appeals in election challenges directly to the Arizona Supreme Court, bypassing the appeals courts, and would require the Supreme Court to quickly hear and decide the case.
Ousted former Republican state Rep. Liz Harris spoke in favor of the bill during a House Municipal Oversight and Elections Committee meeting on Wednesday.
Harris was kicked out of the House last year in a bipartisan vote after she invited a woman to present in front of a joint meeting of the Senate and House elections committees who falsely accused numerous lawmakers of being in the pocket of Mexican drug cartels and being involved in a fraudulent housing deed scheme.
“This might be a Republican issue today, but it might be a Democrat issue a few years from now,” Harris said. “This is really a bipartisan bill.”
She asked the lawmakers to amend the bill to also allow all parties in election suits to examine digital files from the tabulators that counted the votes, all precinct ballot reports and an unmodified copy of the cast-vote record.
Kerry Jackson, a member of the public, asked the lawmakers to vote against the bill.
“I don’t trust this bill,” he said, adding that he’s watched members of the Elections Committee spread false and unfounded claims. “I do not trust y’all with this bill.”
Ruthee Goldkorn, a disability rights activist, told the lawmakers that this bill was just another attempt to sow distrust and distress among the voters and to disrupt democracy, adding that people with disabilities might have ballot envelope signatures that seem suspect because they differ greatly from day to day.
Rep. Rachel Jones, R-Tucson, said the bill should garner bipartisan support since some Democrats claimed that Donald Trump didn’t win the race for president in 2016. Trump lost the popular vote that year but narrowly won the Electoral College tally because he won in several tightly contested battleground states.
She added that she found it “so frustrating” that people tell her fraud didn’t occur in the 2020 and 2022 elections, simply because fraud was never proven in court. Dozens of courts nationwide evaluated fraud claims related to those elections and rejected all of them because litigants could not provide any evidence.
Members of the committee ultimately approved the bill on a 5-4 vote, along party lines. It will next head to the full House of Representatives.
Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, chided those who don’t believe in election fraud.
“These days, I feel like I’m living in the Orwellian world,” he said. “We trust our election officials. They would never put their thumb on the scale. They would never try to cheat. Well, we know that’s demonstrably false, and it’s demonstrably false in the way a 6th grader could know that it’s demonstrably false.”
His proof is that election officials in Maine and Colorado took former President Donald Trump off the primary ballot in their states on the grounds that he is ineligible to serve under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because he incited an insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. (Colorado’s secretary of state actually permitted Trump to run for president, but that state’s Supreme Court ruled he was barred from the ballot.)
“Are they willing to disenfranchise you?” Kolodin asked. “Yes. They’ve done it in public. Before, they were trying to do it in private. Now, they’re willing to do it in public.”
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