PHOENIX — A hand count of ballots from random precincts sought by the Arizona Republican Party in hopes of finding more votes for President Trump just can’t be done, an attorney for Maricopa County told a judge Monday.
Deputy County Attorney Joseph La Rue pointed out that party attorney Jack Wilenchik is demanding that there be a random hand-count audit of votes cast at 2% of the more than 700 precincts.
Only thing he told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah that his county did not require voters to cast ballots in their own precincts.
“We didn’t do it that way,’’ LaRue said.
Instead, he explained, any registered voter could go to any of the approximately 175 vote centers.
“Our ballots are not separated by precincts,’’ La Rue said. “They’re in bags, separated by vote centers.’’
That hand count was finished a week ago, he said, based on 2% of the voting centers, something La Rue told Hannan is specifically authorized by the state’s official Election Procedures Manual.
What Wilenchik wants, he continued, is opening all of the bags and trying to figure out which ballots inside belong to which precincts. Even if the bags are opened, La Rue said, it may not be possible to isolate different precincts.
And even it could be done -- a point La Rue does not concede -- there is no way all that can happen, including a new precinct-by-precinct hand count, ahead of the plans by the Board of Supervisors to certify the election results in a formal “canvass’’ by Thursday, or Friday at the latest.
Put another way, La Rue told Hannah, is that it makes no sense for him to order the kind of hand count the GOP wants if the results will come after the election tallies already are certified.
“The purpose of the hand-count audit is to determine if the vote was accurate and, if it wasn’t, to take other remedial steps prior to the canvass,’’ he said. “And so, if the audit takes place after the canvass, I’m not sure what the point would be.’’
And there’s something else.
La Rue pointed out that someone from the Republican Party actually were involved in the hand count of vote center ballots that was conducted by the county and finished a week ago. He said there were no discrepancies found.
He said it’s too late for the party to come in now, after that count in which they participated was conducted, and claim that’s not the right procedure and demand something else.
There is the legal option for Hannah to grant an injunction to delay the county canvass. But doing so would raise issues that are even more complex.
The state is set to conduct its own formal canvass on Nov. 30, something that requires all 15 counties to be done by then.
And even if that legally can be pushed back because Maricopa County is not ready, there’s a potentially more serious problem.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says federal law requires all state recounts and court contests to be completed by Dec. 8. And six days later the 11 electors pledged to the winning candidate -- currently Joe Biden in Arizona -- cast their ballots.
Central to the issue is that requirement to take some ballots from a certain number of precincts, selected by officials of both parties, to count by hand and compare that with what the machines tallied.
If the audit comes in within a certain margin, then everything is fine.
But if one or more races are outside that margin, then the process is repeated with ever-larger batches. And at a certain point if discrepancies persist, there even are provision for a judge ordering the source code for the computer software reviewed by a special master.
All that plugs into contentions by some Republicans that the voting machines were somehow programmed to delete votes for Trump. That includes allegations -- with no proof offered -- that equipment from Dominion Voting Systems, which is used in Maricopa County, had software glitches which led to mistakes in vote tallies.
Kelli Ward, who chairs the state GOP which has filed the suit, said Monday in a video message that, as far as she is concerned, the election is “far from over.’’
“We have questions that have to be answered,’’ she said. “We are working with the Trump campaign, hand in hand, to make sure the election in Arizona has integrity.’’
More to the point, Ward said that there is no president-elect at the time, as states have yet to certify the results.
“And that’s what makes a president elect, not the media, not the pundits, not the talking heads, not the fake news,’’ she said.
This isn’t the only lawsuit waiting to be resolved.
Attorney Alexander Kolodin wants Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Margaret Mahoney to rule that one of his clients never actually got a chance to cast her ballot at her polling place. And he contends that another client, while casting a ballot, has no assurance it ever was counted.
But Kolodin conceded that even if he wins his lawsuit, it won’t have any effect on this year’s election. What he wants is a court ruling requiring that the voting procedures and equipment used by Maricopa County complies with Arizona law at the next election.
That, however, did not stop attorneys for the Arizona Democratic Party from filing a motion to intervene in hopes of quashing the lawsuit.