Arizona board says it will follow law in partial hand count
PHOENIX (AP) — The Republicans on a rural Arizona county board that wanted to conduct a full hand count in the upcoming midterm vote have clarified they will follow Arizona state law allowing only partial hand counts following a harshly worded letter from the state’s election director who threatened legal action.
“The Board wishes to follow all applicable requirements in statutes and the Elections Procedure Manual when conducting its expanded precinct hand count audit,” reads the Wednesday letter signed by Cochise County Supervisors Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby. The third supervisor, Democrat Ann English, had voted against a full hand count and did not sign.
“That will mean that there will not be a full count of every item on every ballot,” said the letter that the two board members sent to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and State Elections Director Kori Lorick after an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Hobbs appeared satisfied in a response on her secretary of state Twitter account.
“Under Arizona law, counties hand count ballots from a percentage of voting locations to ensure initial results are accurate,” she wrote. “Cochise County clarified that they voted to expand this audit and will not attempt an unlawful hand count of every race on every ballot.”
Confusion was widespread after the board voted 2-1 to Monday approve a “100% county wide hand count audit” of the votes in the midterm election after a chaotic hours-long meeting attended by more than 100 people. Cochise County is located in southeastern Arizona along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Lorick said in a letter to the board Tuesday that she had “serious concerns” about its intentions, “particularly considering the lack of any details” and “the fact that the election is just two weeks away.”
Lorick said a specific Arizona statute cited in the measure approved for a “precinct hand count” details how such a count can be carried out and must exclude early ballots that comprise about 80% of votes in Arizona.
The board members in heavily Republican Cochise County have been under intense pressure to allow a hand count of all ballots from voters who believed false claims of fraud in the 2020 vote.
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 2020 presidential election outcome.
Republican Kari Lake grabbed onto Lorick’s letter to bash Hobbs, the Democrat she is competing against for the governor’s seat in the upcoming election.
Lake accused Hobbs of arrogance toward local officials “who are trying to restore faith and confidence in our elections” and said the Cochise board has every right “to expand the statutory hand count.”
A federal judge in August dismissed a lawsuit by Lake and Mark Finchem, the Republican nominee to replace Hobbs as secretary of state. The suit sought to require the state’s officials to count ballots by hand in November because of unfounded claims of voting machine problems.
The Pinal County Board of Supervisors that oversees a largely rural area east of Phoenix is also being pressured by constituents to do a hand count.
When asked about that possibility, Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer told the board Wednesday that the Arizona law requiring a sample hand count of precincts to check on vote counting machines was put in place about 20 years ago and bars counties from expanding them.
“Once they put those put those proscriptions in place, once they put those statutory guidelines in place, we cannot go out of bounds,” Volkmer said. “So yes, it would be illegal at this point to do a full hand count.”
Pinal County Supervisor Kevin Cavanagh pressed the issue, even while acknowledging it doesn’t appear to be legally available. He asked the county attorney to return for a more detailed presentation at a meeting next week where the board will consider hand counts again.
“And that would be a discussion and possible action item,” Cavanaugh said.
AP Writer Bob Christie contributed to this report from Phoenix.
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