Monday, February 19, 2024

BREAKING: Trump and Lake Allies Expand Elections Lawsuit Against Maricopa County; 3 COCONINO County Practices Now Under Attack (READ Amended Complaint)

Allies of Kari Lake and Donald Trump have expanded their latest elections lawsuit against Maricopa County, adding heavily Democratic Coconino County.

The lawsuit filed by Trump-allied America First Legal on behalf of Lake-allied Strong Communities Foundation was filed earlier this month to relitigate several of the issues Maricopa County has been attacked for during the 2022 elections, and hoping to change some of them for 2024.

At a Thursday hearing, attorneys (James Rogers and Jennifer Wright) told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jay Adleman that they would file an Amended Complaint later that day to add Coconino County. Arizona's Law has confirmed that it was filed and has acquired that new document (not yet on the docket, below). 

It accuses the northern Arizona county - which includes Flagstaff and a sizable portion of the Navajo Nation - of also improperly cancelling voter's registrations and phone-curing early ballots, as well as allowing unstaffed ballot drop boxes. (The lawsuit also accuses Maricopa County of all of these.)

Drop boxes for early ballots has become a flash point for disagreements, and this case could help iron that out. Arizona statutes do not set forth restrictions on how or where counties can set up drop boxes. The Amended Complaint utilizes the law prohibiting so-called "ballot harvesting" to suggest that counties must have someone standing next to the drop box at all times.*

They head to the dictionary for the definition of "staffed", and then have to look at "unstaffed." Their conclusion: "Thus, whenever “elections officials” are not present, a drop box is not “staffed,” and providing such a drop box is a class 5 felony. Accordingly, the Defendants’ providing of unstaffed drop boxes is unlawful. Indeed, doing so is a crime."

The lack of statutory clarity and the changes in explanations provided by the old and new versions of the Elections Procedures Manual did lead Coconino County Recorder Patty Hansen to tell Votebeat reporter Jen Fifield "Holy cow!" Hansen and the other County Recorders were later assured by State Elections Director Colleen Connor that the drop boxes could be unstaffed as long as they are secured.

This lawsuit could test that interpretation, as well as counties' interpretations/procedures on calling voters to cure their early ballot signature issues and cancelling voters' registrations if there is an inter-county address change reported by ADOT.

The parties are also fighting on whether the case should be heard in Maricopa County or somewhere else. The plaintiffs filed there, but quickly asked it to be moved to Yavapai County - which they believe will be more friendly to Republican interests. 

Maricopa County plans to ask the judge to dismiss them from the case as incorrect parties. If that is unsuccessful, they would like the court either keep the case in Phoenix or move it to Pima County.

Judge Adleman repeatedly noted that there are "multiple layers of chicken and egg issues" before he and the attorneys agreed to first address the Motion to Dismiss (to be filed by Wednesday), then (if necessary) the venue, and then (if necessary) a motion by Democratic-allied groups to intervene.

Strong Communities was started and is run by Merissa Hamilton. U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake has tapped Hamilton to head up a significant part of her campaign - getting Lake supporters to return their early ballots.

An interesting side note: Maricopa County has their usual crack in-house team of elections-focused attorneys on the case, but has also retained the services of Snell & Wilmer's Brett Johnson. Johnson and his team typically represent Republican-related interests.

*The anti-"harvesting" provision differentiates between a drop box that a private person or group might set up and one that is "established and staffed by election officials" (A.R.S. §16-1005(E))

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