By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- A judge on Thursday removed the last legal hurdle to certifying the results of the election and handing the state's 11 electoral votes to Joe Biden.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah denied the request by the Arizona Republican Party to block county supervisors from conducting a formal "canvass'' to certify the votes. That clears the way for board action as early as Friday.
More to the point, Hannah summarily granted a bid by county supervisors to toss the entire case, a request that was joined by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and the Arizona Democratic Party.
State GOP spokesman Zach Henry would not comment about a possible appeal.
But Thursday's ruling is not the end of the debate about who won in Arizona.
At a press conference Thursday, Trump campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani promised a new major lawsuit in Arizona as well as one in the battleground state of Georgia, claiming to have "hundreds'' of affidavits proving election fraud but declining to show them to reporters.
And state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, counting on such a new lawsuit, is using that as a trigger to seek a special legislative session. He said the U.S. Constitution gives lawmakers to call themselves into session to look at voting in federal elections if there is evidence available -- even from what has been filed in court -- that there was fraud.
Separately, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, announced that the GOP caucus is setting up a special email account "to gather documented proof of voting irregularities in the 2020 general election in Arizona.''
Fann had previously said she wanted a look at what happened this year as a starting point for a future review of state election laws. Now, however, the Senate president wants these complaints by Nov. 27 -- three days before the date set to formally "canvass'' and certify the vote tally.
But Fann told Capitol Media Services it is not her intent to affect the canvass. Instead, she said, any credible information gathered would be passed along to the secretary of state or the attorney general.
And she dismissed the idea of a special session, saying it isn't practical -- or legal.
Finchem is working on a slightly different time line.
Federal law says that all disputes over presidential elections at the state level have to be resolved by Dec. 8. And the electors then cast their ballots six days later.
Finchem said if a legislative probe finds no evidence of fraud, that clears the way for those electors to vote according to the will of the majority as shown by the election returns. Unofficial returns show Biden beat Trump by about 10,500 votes.
But Finchem said if a majority of the Republican-controlled legislature concludes that there was so much fraud as to make the results unreliable, they could block electors from casting their ballots for any candidate.
That, in and of itself, would not help Trump who, based on the latest numbers, has 306 electoral votes -- including 11 from Arizona. He needs just 270 to win.
But it could prove crucial depending on possible legal -- or legislative -- action in other states.
In tossing the state GOP lawsuit, Hannah did not provide an immediate explanation for his ruling, promising more detail later. But he clearly indicated that he believes the lawsuit had no merit.
Hannah told Hobbs she can seek to recoup the legal fees she incurred in having to hire outside counsel to fight the lawsuit by the Republicans. And that is specifically based on a provision in Arizona law that requires judges to assess legal fees when someone files a claim "without substantial justification.''
Despite the ruling, GOP officials insist they are correct in their interpretation of the law -- and the relief they sought -- to require that there be a sampling of ballots for hand count from 2% of all voting precincts.
"We have identified problems in our own process where the will of a Democrat secretary of state is being substituted for the black letter law passed by the state legislature,'' said Kelli Ward, who chairs the state GOP, in a prepared statement.
That is based on the fact that Arizona law requires there be an audit of voting through a hand count of ballots taken from 2% of the precincts.
But it was the Republican-controlled legislature that allowed counties to set up centralized "vote centers'' instead where any individual from any precinct can cast a ballot. Six counties do that.
And that same law specifically gives the secretary of state the power to enact rules allowing audit samples to be drawn by vote centers and not individual precincts. Those rules, in turn, were approved by Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich, both Republicans.
Ward, however, maintains that something more needs to be done to verify the election results -- and that Biden beat Trump -- and to show that "only legal ballots were counted in the 2020 election.''