100% ballot count blocked; Arizona County is plowing ahead

PHOENIX (AP) — The board of trustees in a southern Arizona county will meet next week to consider counting nearly all ballots cast in person on Election Day, despite an earlier court order limiting hand counting caused by unfounded suspicion in machines tabulate votes.

The actual count could begin before the Cochise County board of directors scheduled to meet Tuesday, and the local prosecutor warns that beginning at any time could result in criminal charges.

The moves come just days after a judge ruled this state law Beams that extend the normal small hand count check of early ballots. He also ruled that 100 percent manual counting of ballots on election day is illegal because each extension of the counties selected for these checks must be chosen at random.

The Republican-dominated Cochise County board of directors is taking this part of the order literally, proposing to expand the count to 99.9% of ballots cast on Election Day, apparently to meet the randomness standard.

District Attorney-Elect Brian McIntyre told the board and its attorneys in a letter Thursday that going ahead with the plan could result in felonies against participants for violations of numerous laws.

“I have brought to the attention of appropriate authorities the possible violations based on related testimonies from two elected officials,” McIntyre wrote. “I sincerely hope that no action will be required of them and that the rule of law prevails.”

He pointed out that the ballots are held by the county Elections Superintendent and that removing or interfering with her work to confirm the results would be among the crimes committed if Republican District Clerk David Stevens took the ballots to hand them over to count.

It also won’t go unchallenged by the group, which sued and got a court order Monday to stop it. They vowed another challenge if Cochise County officials should deviate from the court order.

“We are considering our legal options,” Lisa Cutler, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Retired Americans, said in a statement. “We will take action if the defendants attempt to violate a court order or violate Arizona law.”

It is unclear when the hand count will begin. Stevens said earlier this week he hopes to start on Monday. And the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting says the count could begin before board approval. But Stevens isn’t answering direct questions on the subject now.

The article notes that Stevens lined up more than 200 volunteers to count the results of four races.

“You wish to participate in this way to help people (including some participants) who have lost faith in voting to ensure that elections in our county are reliable and safe,” the agenda reads. “Two other outcomes of this hand count will simply be a larger sample check of machine accuracy and a test of our backup plan in the event some or all of our machines are compromised or last minute failures.”

The two Republicans who control the county board and Stevens are appealing Monday’s decision, but the state Supreme Court refused to expedite the appeal in an order released Friday. The Arizona Court of Appeals also refused to rush it, instead setting a normal briefing schedule that would defer all decisions months later.

Board member Peggy Judd did not respond to a Friday call for comment, and Stevens declined to comment further on how and when he would conduct Tuesday’s hand count of the vast majority of the nearly 12,000 votes cast at polling stations. Another 27,000 voters cast early ballots, but there’s no escaping a Pima County Superior Court judge blocking the extension of the normal 1 percent hand count of those ballots.

State laws establish the rules for hand counting exams used to verify the machines used to count votes in Arizona. For Election Day ballots, districts may select 2% of the district’s districts or two districts for hand counting. The ruling says the board can expand that, but only if it’s done randomly.

Cochise County’s moves could delay the county’s required Nov. 23 voter certification and spill over to the state level.

The normal small hand count is scheduled to be conducted on Saturday by the county’s election director, who opposes the expansion. The four breeds to be checked were drawn at random earlier this week in the presence of representatives of the political parties.

Stevens made his own racial choice, but Democrats refused to participate, said Jim Barton, an attorney representing the Arizona Democratic Party.

“I think that little cute ‘We just do 99 percent’ shows a kind of disregard for the law that’s just shocking,” Barton said. “The fact that elected officials in Cochise County would engage in this type of behavior is embarrassing.”


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Check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections.


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