Arizona secretary of state says Cochise County hand count would be unlawful

Oct 21, 2022, 11:59 AM | Updated: 12:12 pm

In this May 6, 2021, file photo, Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are exam...

In this May 6, 2021, file photo, Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

(AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

PHOENIX – The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office is warning Cochise County officials against moving ahead with a “misguided” plan for a hand count audit of the upcoming general election.

“We understand that the Cochise County Board of Supervisors will vote next week on whether to conduct a hand count of all votes cast, despite both the Cochise County Attorney’s and Legislative Council’s determination that doing so would be unlawful,” Kori Lorick, state elections director under Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, wrote in a letter to the board dated Wednesday.

“The Secretary of State agrees with the County Attorney and Legislative Council and urges the Board to abandon this misguided effort.”

The Cochise County Board of Supervisors is planning to vote Monday on whether to authorize the hand count of the Nov. 8 election. During an Oct. 11 work session where the proposal was discussed, the county attorney’s office advised against it.

Despite the warning, two of the southeastern Arizona county’s three supervisors, Republicans Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby, submitted agenda items for a hand count to be considered Monday. Both cited the public’s lost trust in elections and said the audit would be completed before the election certification deadline.

The third supervisor, Ann English, is a Democrat.

“There’s nothing that allows a separate process within the Election Procedures Manual, nor is it in the (laws), that give the board any power to do this,” Chief Deputy Cochise County Attorney Christine Roberts said during the Oct. 11 session. “We are 3½ weeks away from an election. The Purcell doctrine says you don’t change election procedures that close to an election.”

That’s a reference to a Supreme Court case where the court ruled that changes close to an election are barred.

Under state law, a small percentage of ballots in selected races go through a mandatory hand count with bipartisan teams to check the accuracy of tabulation machines after all the votes are counted. The Cochise County proposal is to do a full hand recount to audit the machine tabulation, something Lorick’s letter says “the Board has no authority to do.”

Hobbs posted the letter to social media on Friday morning. It notes that hand counts are “time intensive and prone to human error.”

“Any election director in Arizona … can attest that it’s impossible to complete an accurate hand count of an election with dozens of races on the ballot in time to comply with applicable statutory deadlines,” the letter says.

According to a presentation during this month’s work session, Cochise County voters cast about 61,000 ballots in the 2020 general election.

“Drastically changing procedures now – mere weeks before Election Day – creates significant risk of administrative error and has the potential to cause voter confusion and mistrust in our election,” the letter says.

The letter goes on to say the state could take legal action that includes “mandatory fee shifting” if Cochise County goes ahead with the hand count.

“We are all stewards of taxpayer dollars, and taxpayers should not bear the burden of the Board’s contemplated unlawful action,” the letter says.

There’s no evidence in Arizona or elsewhere in the country that fraud, problems with ballot-counting equipment or other voting issues had any impact on the results of the 2020 election. Yet many Republican voters who back former President Donald Trump have been convinced by him and others that there is.

A hand count of Maricopa County’s 2020 presidential election ordered by state Senate GOP leaders corroborated President Joe Biden’s victory.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Arizona secretary of state says Cochise County hand count would be unlawful