Nov 13, 2012 6:18 PM by Ian Cross
COCHISE COUNTY - Election officials in Cochise County confirm that 130 unsealed ballots challenged by a backer for CD2 candidate Martha McSally will be counted separately, and if they would change the election results, his suit will be allowed to move forward.
A supporter of the Republican candidate in Arizona's undecided 2nd Congressional District race on Tuesday filed a suit asking a court to block tallying of results from 130 provisional ballots cast in Cochise County.
A Cochise County judge has decided that while the tallying of these ballots will not be blocked, they will counted and set aside. If the discrepancy would change the outcome of the election, he will allow the suit to move forward to be decided.
Republican challenger Martha McSally and Democratic incumbent Ron Barber are neck and neck in results so far. Barber was ahead by about 800 votes in results posted Tuesday afternoon by the Arizona Secretary of State, though thousands more ballots remained to be tabulated in Cochise and Pima counties.
Barber is a former aide to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a fellow Democrat who resigned earlier this year because of the wound she suffered in a January 2011 mass shooting in Tucson. Giffords picked Barber as her successor, and he won a June special election to finish the rest of the current term.
Judge Wallace Hoggatt of Cochise County Superior Court on Tuesday began a hearing on the suit, which was filed just two hours earlier.
The suit alleged that county election officials mishandled three precincts' provisional ballots by not sealing them in envelopes, as was properly done by all other precincts in the county. It also said that the counting of the 130 provisional ballots should be blocked.
If the disputed votes are counted, plaintiff William Odle's vote in the congressional race and other contests "will be diluted and negated by the disputed ballots to such an extent that his chosen candidate, Martha McSally, may not be declared the winner, and because the integrity of the election will be compromised," the suit said.
Lawyers for Barber's campaign filed court papers formally opposing the suit's request for a temporary restraining order, saying that state law did not require sealing of ballots containing provisional ballots, while the Barber campaign itself called the suit an attempt by McSally's campaign to disenfranchise voters, including those in a heavily Hispanic area.
"Throwing away the voters of southern Arizonans is wrong and unacceptable," Barber campaign manager Jessica Floyd said in a statement.
Census data indicates 82.6 of Douglas' population is of Hispanic or Latino origin, compared with 19.4 percent for Sierra Vista and 32.6 percent for Cochise County.
McSally campaign spokesman Yancy Williams said any mishandling of ballots in a minority-dominated area reflects the quality of work by election officials, not targeting by McSally's campaign.
The lawyers who sued on behalf of Odle did not immediately return calls for comment, but Williams said McSally's campaign did not file the suit. "Clearly we have a vested interest in the matter," Williams said.
The suit said the 130 provisional ballots in dispute were among 157 cast at the three precincts but that elections workers disqualified 27 of those, leaving 130 in dispute.
Of the 130 disputed provisional ballots, most were cast at a precinct in the city of Douglas. The remaining ballots were cast in two precincts in or near the city of Sierra Vista.
The Associated Press contributed to this report