AZGOP lawsuit over election audit, voting centers, faces a skeptical judge

By: - November 18, 2020 5:33 pm

An attorney for the Arizona Republican Party struggled to explain to a skeptical judge on Wednesday why Maricopa County should be forced to re-audit ballots cast at polling places earlier this month.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah grilled attorney Jack Wilenchik during a hearing on whether to allow the party’s lawsuit to continue about why he should grant the extraordinary request the AZGOP is making — one that would likely cause the county to miss its Monday deadline for canvassing the vote — and whether there was any actual reason for a new audit. The audit the county already completed found no errors in vote counts.

What, Hannah asked Wilenchik, is the ultimate goal of the lawsuit? And how would a re-audit make any difference?

“It’s about making sure there’s no error, making sure there’s no fraud,” Wilenchick told the court.

At another point, after Wilenchick contended that election hackers would likely seek to hack votes from individual precincts — even though this election used voting centers and not precinct-based polling places — and evidence of those hacks would be missed by auditing voting centers, Hannah pressed him for evidence.

Wilenchick didn’t have any. “That’s why we have the statute” requiring a hand audit of votes cast on Election Day, he said.

The lawsuit centers on whether Maricopa County followed state law when it conducted its audit following the election. Statute says that the hand count must be of 2% of “precincts” and does not mention voting centers. However, another statute authorizing the use of voting centers — a way to let people vote at any place in a county instead of only at their assigned polling place —  requires counties using them to conduct the post-election audit according the the Election Procedures Manual.

The manual, which is created for each election by the Arizona secretary of state and approved by the governor and attorney general, carries the weight of law. And it allows counties using voting centers to audit 2% of those locations instead of focusing the audit on precincts.

Roopali Desai, an attorney for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, told the court that Wilenchick’s assertion that an audit of voting centers wouldn’t catch theoretical hacking was “nonsensical,” as the audit is of the machines that might be vulnerable to hacking, not the actual precinct drawn on a map.

And Sarah Gonski, an attorney for the Arizona Democratic Party, accused the AZGOP of bootstrapping new claims and requests for relief onto the original suit in a response to the motions to dismiss the lawsuit.

“It seems like the plaintiff is treating this like a holiday wish list,” she argued, urging Hannah to reject the AZGOP’s claims.

There is no actual harm to the Republican Party spelled out in the lawsuit, she added, because the purpose is to delay the certification of the results, in which Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump, and to spend untold sums of taxpayer dollars to “satisfy the apparent curiosity of the Arizona Republican Party.”

Hannah said he will issue a ruling by Thursday morning, but hinted that he was preparing to dismiss the suit, announcing that his ruling would come in time to let Maricopa County “move forward with its plans.” The county Board of Supervisors expects to canvass the 2020 election results by Friday.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.