By Jim Ellis
Sept. 8, 2016 — In last Tuesday’s Arizona primary, it appeared that former GoDaddy.com executive Christine Jones had all but clinched the Republican nomination in the state’s open 5th Congressional District. However, just as all votes were finally counted, the lead surprisingly switched. This means we are headed for a re-count and a long sorting out process because the result is a virtual tie.
The unofficial final tally shows state Senate President Andy Biggs now clinging to just a nine vote lead over Jones. On election night, the initial count found Jones leading Biggs by 876 votes with absentee and provisional votes remaining to be counted. In the early post-election counting her lead dropped to 578 votes, but it appeared that Jones would have enough of a margin to cement her preliminary victory.
The final pre-canvass report, however, shows Sen. Biggs with 25,228 votes as compared to Jones’ 25,219. Under Arizona election law, this slim margin triggers an automatic re-count and, with such a small difference separating the two candidates, this contest could still go either way.
The southeast Phoenix suburban is open because Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Mesa) is retiring. Upon announcing that he would not seek a sixth non-consecutive term, the congressman endorsed Sen. Biggs as his replacement. As expected, others jumped in the race, and Jones attempted to split the district’s primary base among Biggs, former Maricopa County Supervisor Don Shapley, and state Rep. Justin Olson. Her ploy may yet work but she is now dependent upon the re-count to again turn the tally her way.
The final percentage cut ended in almost perfect symmetrical fashion, 29-29-21-20 percent. While Biggs and Jones were separated by only nine votes, Shapley and Olson were just 358 ballots apart.
The next step is for the Maricopa County election officials to conduct the official canvass in order to certify a winner. Normally, few votes change from the first complete count to the canvass, but with only a nine-vote difference, another lead change in this race is conceivable. Arizona state law requires the canvass to be completed by Sept. 12. At that point, the re-count will then be ordered to begin.
It is very likely this process will drag on for several weeks. The eventual loser, whether Jones or Biggs, will then likely sue to overturn the final count. The Jones camp is already sending signals that they believe “significant statistical anomalies” are present in the vote, so we are likely to see intricate legal maneuvering before this race finally ends.
The eventual winner faces Democratic biologist Talia Fuentes, but the district’s strongly Republican nature will sweep the GOP standard bearer into office whether that individual is Sen. Biggs or Jones.
Mitt Romney actually registered a slightly better 5th District performance in the 2012 presidential election than did home state Sen. John McCain four years earlier. Romney captured 64 percent of the vote, while McCain tallied 63 percent. Both faced Barack Obama. In his two US House elections here, Rep. Salmon garnered 67 and 69 percent, respectively, in 2012 and 2014.