PHOENIX (AP) — The two Republicans who control elected governance in a rural Arizona county have sued their own election director to force her to conduct a vastly expanded hand count of votes cast in the Nov. 8 election, a deadlock that could affect certification of the results.
They want Cochise County Elections Director Lisa Marra to hand over the approximately 12,000 votes cast on Election Day to the county recorder, an elected Republican. The elected prosecutor warned the private attorneys representing the two GOP board members that taking ballots without authorization could subject their clients to felony charges.
At a raucous board meeting Tuesday, several members of the public denounced the two Republicans on the three-member board for pursuing the hand count and trying to pay for the cause with provincial funds. One of them called a board member a “demagogue” who “makes a disgusting sham” of the democratic process.
The push to hand-count ballots in the Republican county in the southeastern corner of the state, where the iconic Old West town of Tombstone is located, was boosted by false claims by former President Donald Trump and his allies of widespread fraud and voting machine conspiracy theories in the last presidential game. There has been no evidence of large-scale fraud or manipulation of voting machines in 2020 or during this year’s midterm elections.
Nevertheless, the conspiracy theories have spread widely and led to heated public gatherings in mainly rural counties in the west amid calls to ditch voting machines in favor of paper ballots and full hand counts. The controversies nearly delayed the certification of primary results in a New Mexico county earlier this year and have had an ongoing legal battle over a full hand count in a Nevada county.
Republicans in Arizona lost major races this year, including for the US Senategovernor and Secretary of State. Arizona’s evolution into a political battlefield has angered many conservatives in a state traditionally viewed as staunchly Republican. In Cochise County, the Republican candidates for those posts won by wide margins.
The Republicans’ lawsuit, filed late Monday, comes a week after a judge blocked the sign of hand-counting all votes cast during early voting, but also gave them room to pursue broader hand-counting. The judge said state law allows the county to expand the small hand count used for the official audit designed to confirm the accuracy of vote counting machines, provided it is done randomly.
Following the ruling, Republican board member Peggy Judd proposed an extension of the hand count to as many as 99% of ballots on Election Day, although that proposal has now been slightly refined. The lawsuit filed by attorneys for Judd and the other GOP board member, Tom Crosby, said they hope to hand-count four races on all ballots from 16 of the county’s 17 polling stations.
Their lawsuit against the county election director says she refused their order to either conduct the comprehensive count herself or hand over the ballots to Republican county recorder David Stevens so he can do the count. It seeks a warrant to compel her to hand over the ballots.
The lawsuit states that the Republican board members have concluded that the extensive hand count is “necessary to ensure completeness and accuracy before certifying the election.” The certified results of the province must be received by the Secretary of State no later than November 28.
That means there’s little time to get a ruling from the court, get about 12,000 Election Day ballots out of the director’s possession, and gather the more than 200 volunteers Stevens has said he’s ready to take on. counting hands. Another 32,000 votes were cast early.
If the province misses the certification deadline, the Secretary of State or a candidate can go to court and ask a judge to force the board to certify the results. The deadline is in state law, and the election rules based on that law say county officials must certify and cannot alter the results.
The Pima County judge who heard the previous case because local judges declared a conflict will also consider the new lawsuit. Judge Casey McGinley has scheduled a one-day hearing for Friday.
The lawsuit also says Republican Attorney Brian McIntyre has “made it clear that he will prosecute any attempt by the Board and Recorder to exercise their legal authority to seize the ballots to complete an extensive hand count themselves.”
McIntyre has repeatedly told the board in recent weeks that their efforts would be illegal, as has Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the state’s top election official and Democratic governor-elect.. However, Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued an informal advisory support the board.
A lawyer for Marra said on Tuesday that her client had not been formally served, but that she was just beginning to review the lawsuit. A formal answer would probably come soon.
Marra performed the required hand count audit on Saturday, as did other counties in the state. Those audits pick a sample of both Election Day and early ballots. Bipartisan teams of volunteers provided by the chairmen of the district’s Democratic and Republican parties count four races — five in a presidential election year.
Marra’s certification to Hobbs’ office says two-party early ballots and two-party ballots on Election Day from two polling places were counted, totaling 2,202 ballots. The results of the hand count exactly matched the machine count.
Follow AP’s election coverage at: https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections
Checking out for more information on the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections.