Photo by Jim Small | Arizona Mirror
Two lawsuits aiming to overturn the 2022 election were sharply rebuffed by the Arizona Supreme Court last week.
On Aug. 24, the high court shot down a special action petition urging justices to void the election results in Maricopa County for failing to go through appropriate legal avenues. Scottsdale-based attorney and avid Kari Lake fan Ryan Heath had argued, on behalf of voter David Mast and Cochise County Supervisor Tom Crosby, that Maricopa County violated signature verification rules during the 2022 midterms.
Crosby, a Republican, came under fire last year for refusing to certify the 2022 election results in Cochise County, spreading baseless allegations about the validity of tabulating machines and pushing for a hand count. After a court ordered him and his fellow reticent supervisor Peggy Judd to carry out their statutory duties, he did not show up to the board meeting in which the county’s tally was finally certified.
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Election officials, Heath said, erred in comparing early ballot signatures to those on previous early ballots instead of to signatures on the voter registration, as required by state law.
A similar claim was made by failed attorney general nominee Abraham Hamadeh last year. That argument proved ineffective, with a Mohave County Superior Court judge dismissing it on the grounds that the practice of verifying early ballot signatures using past ballots has been widespread for several years and could have been challenged before the 2022 election.
Prior to 2019, state law said signature comparison could only come from the voter’s registration form. But that year, lawmakers changed the law to give county recorders more signature verification options by allowing them to use any signatures in the voter’s entire “registration record.”
That same year, the Election Procedures Manual, which has the force of law and advises counties on how to run elections, was updated to allow election officials to use signatures on election documents other than voter registration forms — including previous early ballots — because those forms may have been filled years before and might no longer be an accurate representation of a voter’s signature.
The remedies Heath proposed are outside of the Supreme Court’s ability to order when the dispute over signature verification processes hasn’t yet been settled, according to the justices. Heath requested that the court order Maricopa County decertify the results of the 2022 midterm and recount all mail-in ballots using only signatures on voter registration forms. Failing that, he proposed that the court order a statewide recount of all votes, but exclude the nearly 2 million ballots cast in Maricopa County or require the county to decertify the results of its statewide elections and conduct new ones.
The justices were skeptical of Heath’s attempt to petition them directly, skipping over both the appeals and superior court levels. In his petition, Heath argued that his case should be allowed to circumvent the normal process to save his clients unnecessary wait and expenses. But, the justices rebutted, the special action was filed nine months after the 2022 election concluded. And the issues raised in Heath’s appeal could be debated just as well in a lower court.
“Plaintiffs did not provide a compelling reason as to why this matter could not be initiated in a lower court, including the superior court, which has the ability to consider any evidence presented in accordance with court rules and make factual findings,” the justices concluded.
To build his argument, Heath used testimony presented in the Lake v. Hobbs case. Lake, who lost the governor’s seat by 17,000 votes, posited that election officials verified signatures at too fast a pace to comply with state law. But, the justices pointed out in their response to Heath, that claim was rejected earlier this year when a trial court judge ruled that all the evidence presented supported the conclusion that election officials did, in fact, follow state law.
Additionally, the justices said Heath’s attempt to rehash the trial court’s conclusions is invalid, because neither Crosby nor Davis are involved in that case and so are not allowed to appeal any of its rulings.
“Parties to a trial court proceeding may file an appeal in accordance with applicable court rules,” wrote the judges. “Plaintiffs, who are not a party in (Lake v. Hobbs), therefore cannot use a special action before this Court as an attempt to collaterally appeal Judge (Peter) Thompson’s May 22nd order.”
Hamadeh also suffered a defeat in his ongoing bid to nullify his 2022 loss. Earlier this month, the failed GOP nominee, who lost the attorney general’s seat by just 280 votes, sought relief from the state Supreme Court after a Mohave County Superior Court judge rejected his request for a new trial. In his special action, Hamadeh’s attorneys lambasted the judge for failing to issue final, signed orders that could be appealed and for conducting a trial in December in a way that made it too difficult to present sufficient evidence.
Among Hamadeh’s many claims are allegations that inaccurate election verification processes during the 2022 midterms cost him the race; a statewide recount which identified 507 uncounted votes in Pinal County means more miscounted ballots could exist elsewhere that could sway the results in his favor; and issues with voter registration systems led to as many as 1,000 incorrectly rejected provisional ballots.
On Aug. 23, the Arizona Supreme Court shot down Hamadeh’s attempt to skip the appeals court. It also issued sanctions against Hamadeh’s legal team for blatant lies.
The special action relied largely on criticism of Mohave Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen, with Hamadeh’s attorneys complaining that, despite repeated requests, Jantzen issued late and unsigned final judgments, violating Hamadeh’s right to a fair and speedy judicial process. The legal team for Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes rebutted that Hamadeh’s attorneys had always had the option to file a request for an expedited final judgment, and Hamadeh’s own campaign later admitted in a response that it knew it could and failed to do so.
The high court took a dim view of Hamadeh’s falsehoods and ordered attorneys fees be awarded to Mayes and Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, for being forced to respond to an insincere filing.
“Because Petitioners were not only aware that they needed a final judgment to seek appellate relief but also misrepresented to this Court that they had sought such relief when they had not done so, and because this representation was the underlying premise upon which this petition was brought, and because all of (Hamadeh’s) claims for trial court error can be presented on appeal, we find that the special action unnecessarily expanded the proceeding and compelled (Mayes and Fontes) to incur the unnecessary expenses of filing their court-ordered responses,” wrote Chief Justice Robert Brutinel.
Hamadeh’s case was sent back down to the appeals court and Jantzen was ordered to issue a final, signed ruling.
DJ Quinlan, a spokesperson for Mayes’ campaign, applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to sanction Hamadeh.
“We are pleased with the court quickly dismissing this unnecessary and poorly executed filing,” he said in an emailed statement. “The court was right to sanction Hamadeh and his legal team — it is not acceptable to mislead the court in an attempt to circumvent the legal process.”
In a statement posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, Hamadeh said he remained committed to his challenge.
“We remain vigilant in our fight to seek justice for the thousands of Arizona voters who were disenfranchised last November,” he wrote. “The closest election in Arizona history deserves to be litigated so that voters know with certainty that the candidate with the most votes legitimately holds the office of Attorney General.”
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