BISBEE — A Benson resident running for the Cochise County assessor’s seat was disqualified from the race Monday after a superior court judge ruled that some of the signatures presented in her petitions were invalid.
After some signatures were tossed, Christine O’Hara was left with only 530 valid signatures. She needed 550 to qualify as a candidate to run against incumbent assessor Philip Leiendecker in the primary election on Aug. 4.
The 577 signatures initially presented by O’Hara in her nomination petitions were challenged by Leiendecker, who cited in his 13-page complaint incomplete addresses given by signers, signatures that didn’t match the voters’ registration cards, as well as signatures by individuals who are not registered to vote, as the reasons for the challenge.
Among the contested signatures were those submitted by Benson Mayor Toney King and former Benson councilman Joe Konrad.
But Leiendecker’s complaint also requested that all the signatures garnered by O’Hara be struck, because he claims O’Hara failed to include the date of the primary election on each of her 64 nomination petitions.
After two hearings, Cochise County Superior Judge James Conlogue on Monday ruled that a handful of the signatures provided by O’Hara differed from the signers’ voters registration cards.
“One of the signatures is extraordinarily different,” Conlogue said.
The judge also stated that there were a couple of signatures that weren’t even on the nomination petitions.
“I find that she (O’Hara) does not have the 550 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot,” Conlogue said Monday.
The judge however, praised O’Hara for her “yeoman’s effort” in representing herself during the hearings.
At Monday’s hearing, O’Hara had said she would prove that 18 signatures that were in question because they differed from those provided on the individuals’ voter registration cards, were indeed valid.
She said she went to the residence of each person who signed and took a notary public with her so that the signatures could be provided on affidavits. She was able to collect 12 signatures.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people, none of the signers were present in Conlogue’s courtroom Monday. O’Hara proceeded to call each one from the courtroom and asked them to testify via cell phone. Only two of the 12 who were called, failed to answer their phones. The rest testified.
Despite that, six of the 18 signatures were invalidated.
After making his decision, Conlogue asked O’Hara if she wanted to “gather her thoughts” so she could present an argument. He also told her she could appeal his ruling.
She declined both offers.
On her Facebook page Monday, O’Hara made a video detailing her experience in court.
“I really believe I’m just going to take it the way it is,” she said, regarding Conlogue’s ruling. “Perhaps this is not something that’s meant for me. Perhaps this job, based on the corruption that does exist in government, is not meant for me.”
In a brief phone interview with the Herald/Review following the online post, O’Hara said, “I fought the good fight. I did what I could do.”
According the the Cochise County Elections Department website, O’Hara was Leiendecker’s only opponent.
Registration for the primary election closes July 6.