Arizona Congressional Cliffhanger: Christine Jones Sues State in CD5 Race vs. Andy Biggs

Christine Jones, former GoDaddy executive and a candidate for Arizona's Congressional District Five, has no intention of going gentle into that good night.

Her loss by nine votes in the primary election last week to Republican competitor Andy Biggs is so close, it'll trigger an automatic recount, but Jones is already on the offensive.

Jones and her campaign, with the help of veteran elections attorney Joe Kanefield, filed a complaint on Tuesday demanding that Maricopa County delay certification of the August 30 primary election result. Jones argues that some ballots were improperly discarded and others improperly counted.

At about 4:30 on Tuesday afternoon, following an hourlong hearing, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joshua Rogers denied a motion for a restraining order against the county.

Maricopa County officials had already decided today to hold off until Friday before transmitting election results for official certification.

Channel 3 (KTVK-TV) news reporter Dennis Welch tweeted from the hearing that Jones' side argued that at least 130 votes were tossed because the voters' names didn't match registration lists, and that Biggs' attorneys accused Jones of creating "chaos" and "disruption" to try to win.

Judge Rogers plans to set another hearing in the case later this week.

"[Cesar Ybarra] was not there representing the Republican Party — he was representing Andy Biggs." — County elections spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew

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In the meantime, Jones and her campaign hope to scrutinize public records expected to be released to them today by Maricopa County, looking for evidence of cheating or negligence. The campaign requested the records following news of the close vote and after discovering that Biggs' campaign manager had been helping to oversee ballot-counting in the county.

The millionaire ex-GoDaddy lawyer was left stunned at the end of vote-counting in the wee hours of Saturday morning. After early returns on Tuesday night showed her up by a few hundred votes, Jones delivered a victory speech.

"We fought it hard, we've done a good job, and we're going to finish this thing in November!" Jones shouted from a podium at her east Valley headquarters on August 30 to a cheering crowd of supporters.

Then came the crash: At about 2 a.m. Saturday, state officials declared that Biggs had cinched the election.

That same day, Kanefield —who happens to be a former state elections director — fired off a six-page request for public records on behalf of Jones' campaign to Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell in preparation for a possible election challenge. The wide-ranging request targets questionable votes and hints at a potential conspiracy between Biggs' campaign and county elections. (See below for the complete request.)

Jones and her lawyer seek records of any communications between the county and the Biggs for Congress campaign or Statecraft PLLC, a political-strategy company Biggs uses; copies of logs and other paperwork associated with tracking the August 30 primary; lists of voters who cast ballots in the CD5 race; and documents related to provisional-ballot voters and voters whose ballots were "spoiled" for any reason, among other documents.

Kanefield and Jones' spokesman, Brian Seitchik, didn't return messages on Tuesday.

Elizabeth Bartholomew, spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Recorder's Office, tells New Times the records request will likely be satisfied today. She acknowledges that Jones' campaign is "upset" that Biggs' campaign manager, Cesar Ybarra, was caught acting as an observer for vote-counting at the county's ballot-tabulation center on Friday.

Bartholomew says the county had put out a call, as usual, for a representative from the Republican and Democratic parties to observe vote-counting. The Maricopa County Republican Party — which had endorsed Biggs, a staunch conservative, in the CD5 race — sent Cesar Ybarra, who had registered with the party as an observer. Ybarra is Biggs' main campaign consultant.

"He was not there representing the Republican Party — he was representing Andy Biggs," Bartholomew says.

But Bartholomew downplayed the notion that Ybarra's presence corrupted the election. Ybarra, like other observers, simply sat quietly and watched, she says.

"That room is under surveillance 24/7," Bartholomew says. "There is no strategic advantage to being in that room."

Ybarra served as an observer all day Thursday and for part of the day on Friday, until Jones' campaign found out and alerted county officials. Ybarra was escorted from the building at about 2 p.m., and officials asked the Republican Party to send over a more "neutral" observer. No rule or law prevents a campaign worker from overseeing ballot counting for a particular race, she says. Rather, Purcell made the call to boot Ybarra based on "common sense and best practice."

Ybarra disputes Bartholomew's characterization of his role as an observer, saying he was indeed present during the vote-counting to represent the Republican Party.

"Look, when they asked me to leave, the county was doing their job," Ybarra says. "I didn't question their authority, and I left."

Biggs' campaign released a statement last week calling the election result "one of the most remarkable electoral turnarounds in the history of Arizona politics."

Arizona law requires an automatic recount in state elections in which the margin of victory is less than one-tenth of 1 percent or 200 votes, whichever is less. The state is expected to certify the primary election results on Monday, at which point a recount can begin.

Whoever comes out on top in the primary election is likely to win the seat in the November 8 general election in the heavily Republican district.

Read CD5 candidate Christine Jones' public records request for 2016 election documents: 

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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.

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