Councilwoman Julia Gusse has announced her intention to contest the results of this month’s Primary Election in Maricopa.
Gusse emailed Pinal County about her appeal. Gusse was 15 votes shy of reaching the General Election ballot in her bid to be re-elected to Maricopa City Council. A problem with some ballots raised concerns.
“I believe this county error can only be rectified by allowing all candidates to move forward to the General Election or calling for a special election at the expense of the county,” Gusse said in her email.
In the early ballot process, some voters within the city limits did not initially receive a ballot that contained the mayoral and council candidates. The county supplied a new ballot to those voters who reported the discrepancy or turned up in the Recorder’s Office’s internal audit.
County Recorder Virginia Ross said the county held back the completed Maricopa ballots that had already been returned to wait for the voters to return the replacement ballots that contained the city races. Ross said all but two of those voters submitted a new ballot.
But questions remain about the exact number of wrong ballots that turned up in the hands of Maricopa voters. Ross said the new system was based on county GIS, and there were no tools that would signal such a discrepancy until a voter reached out. The GIS issue affected around 400 ballots in the county. The county has not clarified exactly how many ballots were affected in Maricopa.
The Board of Supervisors voted to accept the countywide election canvass with the understanding there could be an appeal of the local canvass.
Gusse, who said she will not comment until she seeks legal advice, told the county she was unsure of the exact process of appeal. At Friday’s special meeting of the board, attorney Chris Keller said the contested area would be with the City, and the county would not be a party to it.
Locally, a margin of 10 votes or fewer triggers an automatic recount.
Nancy Smith 4,269 (elected outright)
Bob Marsh 3,966 (elected outright)
Amber Liermann 3,383 (advances to General Election)
Andre LaFond 3,286 (advances to General Election)
Julia Gusse 3,271
Linette Caroselli 2,739
LaFond said he understands Gusse’s frustration, but does not think either of her ideas is necessary.
“The fact that a number of ballots were completely exempt of city council races is concerning, and I hope the county is taking steps to prevent that in the future,” he said. “But all the candidates were absent from the ballot. It wasn’t that a selection of candidates were absent from the ballot.”
Ross said the county will conduct a second audit “just to be sure” about current addressing for the General Election.
“We will make sure it is correct before sending the data to the printer,” Ross said.
Arizona League of Cities and Towns Election Manual on contesting local elections:
The person contesting the election must file a statement in superior court no more than five days after completion of the canvass and declaration of the result. A contesting statement must set forth the following information:
- Name and address of the person contesting the election and a statement that he is an elector of the city or town. The statement must allege that the person is an elector of the city or town, or it is legally insufficient.
- The name of the person whose right to hold office is being contested or the title of a contested measure or proposition.
- The office which is subject to contest.
- The particular grounds of the contest.
The statement must also contain an affidavit of verification by the person contesting the election that the person believes all the information contained thereon is true and correct to the best of his or her knowledge. Immediately after receiving this statement, the clerk of the superior court will transmit a copy of the statement in addition to a summons to the person (the contestee) who is the subject of the contest. The contestee will have five days in which to answer the summons and file rebuttal, exclusive of the day of service. If the contestee does not answer the summons, the court may hear the case ex parte (without the contestee taking part in the hearing). In the case of a city or town election, if the contestee fails to answer the summons within the five-day period, the court is obliged to set the time for hearing not later than 10 days after the date the contest was filed in superior court. If the contestee shows good cause why the hearing should be continued, a period of five additional days may be allowed for this purpose. If one of the parties to the contest cannot adequately prepare for trial without first inspecting the ballots, the person may petition the court for inspection. The person must post a bond with two sureties in the principal amount of $300; and if the person loses the contest, he or she must pay for the cost of the inspection. The court appoints three persons to inspect the ballots, one selected by each of the parties, if applicable, and one by the court. When the ballots have been destroyed without attempting a concealment or fraud prior to an election contest, the court will not void the election. Within five days after hearing all the proof and allegations of the parties, the court will make a determination either affirming or nullifying the results of the election. If the election is set aside and it appears that a person other than the contestee has the highest number of legal votes, the court will declare that person rightfully elected and void the election certificate of the person who failed to win the contest of election. If the entire election is voided, the court may establish the procedures for dealing with the election. The judgment of an election contest is appealable. Court costs for the appeal may be recovered by the successful party.