After Narrow Loss to Longtime Maricopa County Elections Boss, Aaron Flannery Takes the High Road

Aaron Flannery could be forgiven if he believed a seven-term county politician whose job includes overseeing county elections managed to pull a fast one on him.

Flannery was the first Republican in 28 years to challenge Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell. After 309,179 Republicans cast their ballots in last week's election, wouldn't you know it — Purcell managed to squeak out a win by a margin of only 185 votes. (Damn right, your vote counts.)

But the U.S. Army veteran and businessman says he doesn't think Purcell put her thumb on the scale, so to speak. A gentleman in defeat, Flannery offered praise for his competitor, saying Purcell has run the office "with the highest amount of integrity that you can have" since she was first elected in 1988.

"I don't feel she would rig an election in any way, shape, or form," Flannery says. "If she did, she would have won by a lot more."

County elections require a difference of 10 votes or fewer to trigger an automatic recount. Flannery could contest the results by filing an action in Superior Court, but he'd need evidence of fraud or something untoward to support his claim. And he'd have to pay for the legal effort himself. He says he "saw no wrongdoing" and has no plans to contest the election.

Although Flannery first filed to run against Purcell in 2014, he's well aware that his strong showing resulted from the debacle of the March 17 presidential preference election, during which many Maricopa County voters waited in line at the polls for hours.

"Obviously, it was a huge mistake, and it opened a lot of eyes to the election process," he says, adding that Arizona voters could still dethrone Purcell in the general election in November, in which her opponent is Democrat Adrian Fontes, an attorney. Still, the fact that Flannery drew 154,497 votes was "proof that a lot of hard work and positive campaigning can go a long way."

Purcell didn't return a phone message left on Tuesday morning requesting comment for this story.

Elizabeth Bartholomew, legislative liaison and spokeswoman for the recorder's office, dismisses the notion that Purcell, in her capacity as elections boss, somehow cheated.

"Helen has not been near a live ballot," Bartholomew says. "She's barely down at the ballot-tabulation center."

Fontes believes Flannery’s near-victory means county voters are more than ready to consider a switch from Purcell.

"I think it bodes very well for us," he says of last week's election. "It’s telling that a guy who has very low name recognition came so close to beating a politician that everybody knows."

Flannery vows to be back on the ballot in 2020, and to continue his push for streamlining and updating the recorder's office in the meantime.

Bartholomew says Maricopa County's results from last week's election have been fully tabulated and will be transmitted to the Board of Supervisors on Friday for certification before being sent on to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, which will certify statewide elections next Monday.

At that point, a recount can begin on the one race from last week that triggered an automatic recount: the Congressional District 5 contest between Andy Biggs and Christine Jones. Biggs led Jones by just nine votes after last week's tally.  
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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.