- Associated Press - Thursday, September 8, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - A judge will decide Friday whether to allow hundreds of contested ballots to count in the hotly contested Republican primary in a Phoenix-area congressional district.

Unofficial results from the Aug. 30 primary for the 5th Congressional District had state Senate President Andy Biggs leading former internet executive Christine Jones by nine votes out of some 85,500 votes cast in the four-way race.

Jones’ campaign contends Maricopa County should have counted votes from at least 300 eligible voters who cast ballots that weren’t counted for various reasons.

A lawyer for Biggs argued that Jones was creating chaos and disruption in an attempt to win the election.

County Superior Court Judge Joshua Rogers held a hearing Thursday for both sides to state their case and hear from various witnesses including testimony from a handwriting expert. Some on the contested ballots reportedly were rejected because voters’ signatures didn’t match.

Rogers’ ruling was expected Friday morning ahead of the state certification of the results during the official canvass of the primary election results and next week’s expected recount of the 5th Congressional race.

The GOP nominee in the heavily Republican district in southeastern Phoenix suburbs will almost certainly replace Republican Rep. Matt Salmon, who is retiring.

Biggs had 25,228 votes and Jones 25,219 while two other candidates each had about 17,000 votes, according to the unofficial results released early Saturday after more than four days of counting.

Because the nine-vote margin would be well under thresholds set by state law, the state would go to court after the canvass to request permission to conduct the recount.

County election officials for several days would have election machines again scan voters’ paper ballots, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew of the county elections office.

She said workers would recount ballots cast by voters at polling places in the district on election day plus all early ballots cast countywide.

Early ballots aren’t segregated by district, according to Bartholomew, who said only the 5th District results would be tabulated for the recount.

Recounts in Arizona congressional races are rare because voter registrations in most districts favor one party or another, so winners typically notch large margins of victory.

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