The two Republicans on a county board in southeastern rural Arizona approved a proposal 2-1 Monday for a hand-count of all ballots in the Nov. 8 election after rejecting a differently worded motion during a chaotic meeting.
Cochise County Supervisors Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby voted for the measure after rejecting a first proposal that mentioned 100 volunteers who had already been vetted and trained for the hand count. The third board member, chairwoman Ann English, is a Democrat who voted against both proposals, arguing that the country’s insurance would not protect it from expected lawsuits.
“I implore you not to attempt to order this separate hand-count,” said County Attorney Brian McIntyre, a Republican. He said such action would be unlawful and supervisors could be held personally liable in a civil action.
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The Republicans were under intense pressure from voters in the heavily Republican county who believe Donald Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
“The Cochise County Supervisors are clearly manufacturing a scenario to delay the certification of Arizona’s election results,” said Natali Fierros Bock, member of a coalition of voting rights advocates in Arizona. “Election denying politicians have been signaling that election disrupting tactics like the one seen today in Cochise County would be part of their strategy to overwhelm the work of our elections officials.
“These tactics are irresponsible, dangerous, and in some cases, very clearly against the law,” she said.
The first proposal that was rejected said that volunteers “are wishing to take part in this way to help people (including a few of the participants) who have lost trust in elections to see that elections are reliable and secure in our county.”
The measure that was approved calls for a hand-count audit in all precincts to be organized by the county recorder or other elections official to assure agreement with the machine count. McIntyre also called that plan unlawful.
Under state law, a small percentage of ballots in selected races already go through a mandatory hand-count with bipartisan teams to check the accuracy of vote-counting machines after all the votes are counted.
More discussion on the matter was expected to come up at another county board meeting Tuesday morning.
A similar hand-count push in rural Nevada’s Nye County prompted a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues it risks illegal release of election results. It is among the first counties in the nation to act on election conspiracies related to mistrust in voting machines.
Nevada’s state Supreme Court ruled Friday that Nye can start hand-counting mail-in ballots two weeks before Election Day, but it won’t be allowed to livestream the tallying and must make other changes to its plans.
A federal judge in August dismissed a lawsuit by Kari Lake, Republican candidate for Arizona governor, and Mark Finchem, Republican nominee for secretary of state, to require the state’s officials to count ballots by hand in November because of unfounded claims of voting machine problems.
There’s no evidence in Arizona or elsewhere in the United States that fraud, problems with ballot-counting equipment or other voting issues had any impact on the results of the 2020 election.
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In Cochise County, Recorder David Stevens, also a Republican, has said that with a hand-count there could raise concerns about the results being illegally leaked before they are legally posted at 8 p.m. on Election Day. The county had about 62,000 votes cast in the 2020 general election.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat running for governor whose office oversees state elections, in a letter urged the board to abandon its effort to mandate a hand-count, agreeing that it would be unlawful.
“If the Board votes to proceed with a full count — putting at risk the accuracy and integrity of our elections — the Secretary will take all available legal action to ensure that Cochise County conducts the 2022 General Election in compliance with Arizona law,” said the letter, suggesting the board members voting in favor could be personally liable for their actions.
“We are all stewards of taxpayer dollars, and taxpayers should not bear the burden of the Board’s contemplated actions,” it added. “We sincerely hope such action is unnecessary and the Board will follow the advice of its own attorney.”