Andy Biggs Wins by 27 Votes Over Christine Jones in Arizona CD5 Primary Election Recount

Christine Jones conceded the Arizona Congressional District Five primary election to Republican competitor Andy Biggs on Friday, after a judge announced the results of the election recount.

Biggs, the current state senate president, won the contest, 25,244 votes to Jones's 25,217 — a difference of 27 votes. He's all but certain to win November's general election in the heavily Republican, east Valley district.

"I congratulate Christine Jones on her hard-fought campaign to replace Congressman Matt Salmon," Biggs said in a statement. "Running for office is a daunting task and requires hard work and determination. Christine demonstrated those qualities and more throughout the campaign."

Jones was overcome with emotion during her concession speech to Superior Court Judge Joshua Rogers and dabbed tears from her eyes just after. Before telling Rogers she was dropping all of her remaining legal challenges to the election results, Jones criticized the vote-counting process that left hundreds of votes uncounted even though Rogers had deemed them "disenfranchised."

"I do want to say for the record: This has been a very eye-opening experience," she told Rogers at his courtroom podium.

When an election comes down to nine votes and is "decided by people whose votes weren't counted," it's a "real eye opener," she said.

Jones had given a premature victory speech on the night of August 30, when initial voting results came in and showed her leading. But as the last of the votes trickled over the next few days, the trend reversed, and when the tally was complete, she found herself trailing Biggs by nine votes.

Jones filed suit to contest the results, and state law also triggered an automatic recount because the difference in votes was so small.

Jones's suit asked for more votes to be counted, such as provisional votes cast in the wrong precinct and those that had been thrown because of signature mismatches. Rogers dismissed three of her four arguments, but — after testimony from voters the Jones campaign had located — ruled on September 9 that a bad county policy had disenfranchised up to 728 voters countywide in the primary election. That's the number of people who showed up at the wrong polling location and were given provisional ballots by poll workers who either failed to tell them the provisional vote would not count or assured them it would.

Jones, with attorney Joseph Kanefield, asked Rogers to order all the CD5 votes in that category counted. But Rogers's ruling only authorized the re-counting of 18 of the provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. When that was done, Biggs was up by 16 votes instead of nine. Kanefield wrote a letter to Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, reminding her that she could still order the counting of the remaining votes the judge had deemed disenfranchised. But Purcell — a Republican who had won her own primary race by just 185 votes — ordered the results sent off to be certified to the state on Monday morning without any more votes being counted.

The automatic recount began soon after and was finished on Thursday. In the meantime, Jones's camp filed another lawsuit to contest the results, this one in federal court.

At 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon, the appointed time to read the results, Rogers asked all the parties in the case if they were ready to proceed. Suspense hung over the courtroom as a representative from the Secretary of State's Office handed Rogers a manila envelope containing the result.

Jones and Kanefield waited anxiously at one table. Kory Langhofer and other members of Biggs's legal team fidgeted on the other. Biggs himself skipped the hearing and wasn't present. Purcell and Elections Director Karen Osborne sat in the back of the courtroom with other observers, none of whom made a sound as Rogers pored over the papers in the folder.

Then Rogers read the numbers that revealed Biggs had won by 27 votes.

The former GoDaddy exec flashed a smile, but it seemed forced and quickly disappeared. The tension remained for a few minutes as the judge and lawyers discussed the remaining legal and scheduling issues of Jones's lawsuit. Rogers ended the proceeding, and the mood of the courtroom became more relaxed. Langhofer and the Biggs legal team congratulated each other happily, with one saying he could finally get a good night's sleep. Jones sat alone at a table for a few minutes, rubbing her hands. She and Kanefield soon disappeared into a back room.

Biggs's team and the county and state elections officials departed. Several news media members hung around outside the courtroom on the seventh floor of the court's downtown East Court Building, waiting for Jones to emerge and give a statement. Suddenly, Purcell, Osborn, all the elections attorneys, and Biggs's legal team reappeared from the hallway elevators, having received text messages summoning them back to court. No one knew what was going on as they filed back into the courtroom, but then Langhofer looked up from his phone and announced that Jones had issued a concession statement on Twitter.

She and Kanefield re-entered the room, and Jones gave her concession speech to Rogers, saying she was ending her state and federal challenges to the election and blasting the irregularities of the contest.

"I'm going to lay down my sword and we're going to move on with our lives," she said. "But will not lay down my efforts to make sure every single vote counts."

Jones praised the county recorder's office for helping with the challenge, calling thousands of people whose signatures didn't match and contacting others who cast provisional ballots in the wrong precinct. Her voice wavering at times, Jones complained that her husband, an air force veteran, had been subjected to criticism about his military record during the campaign, and she had been criticized for her work at GoDaddy.

Jones told reporters after the hearing that she would support Biggs now that he has won the primary. She wouldn't rule out running for public office.

The wealthy former lawyer for GoDaddy bankrolled much of her own campaign, as she had in 2014, when she ran unsuccessfully for governor. She doesn't need a job. But for the next year or two, she said, she'll spend time working as activist for voters, focusing on disenfranchised votes like the ones her team encountered when doing her lawsuit research. This race, she emphasized, revealed that every vote truly does count.

Jones agreed that Purcell, on her own, could have counted up to 300 more votes in CD5 of people with signature mismatches or provisional ballots. Purcell told New Times last week that, on advice from her lawyer, she had the results certified without counting more votes.

Both Jones and one of her campaign strategists, Jordan Ray, expressed suspicion at how the final votes seemed to have been trending toward Jones, then reversed unexpectedly and began trending for Biggs in the days after the election. Ray said that if any evidence of wrongdoing had been discovered regarding the trend, the Jones campaign certainly would have investigated it. But no such evidence surfaced.

"It is what it is," Ray said of the race's final outcome.

The cliffhanger CD5 race, with its subsequent allegations by Judge Rogers of hundreds of disenfranchised votes, comes on top of a series of election debacles and oddities in Maricopa County this year, including the bungled presidential preference election in March, a misprint on 1.3 million Spanish-language early ballots, and the revelation that foreign hackers tried to infiltrate the county's voter-registration database in June.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.