Arizona county’s ballot hand-count plan challenged in court

Nov 1, 2022, 2:13 PM | Updated: 2:47 pm
(AP Photo/Matt York, File)...
(AP Photo/Matt York, File)

(AP Photo/Matt York, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona county’s plan to hand count all ballots cast in next week’s election has triggered a court challenge, marking the latest twist to the effort by rural Cochise County to mollify skeptics distrustful of its vote-counting equipment.

The lawsuit came Monday as Democrats agreed to help provide volunteers to assist in the tally of an estimated 50,000 early and Election Day ballots in the Republican-heavy county, which strongly backed former President Donald Trump in 2020.

State law on hand counts, which are usually limited to a small percentage of the votes, says party chairs from at least two recognized parties must provide a list of people to help count the vote and no more than 75% can be from the same party.

The counts would be in addition to the official machine tabulation.

Arizona has become the hotspot for election denialism these past two years, and in recent weeks armed people have staked out ballot drop boxes in an effort to dissuade what they contend is potential illegal voting. A federal judge last week refused to issue an order blocking the poll-watching, saying the groups organizing it had a First Amendment right to be there. That prompted the Justice Department to jump into the fray Monday, saying the efforts raise concerns about illegal voter intimidation.

The two Republicans on the three-member Cochise County board of supervisors have pushed for the full hand count, and the GOP county Recorder is going along, saying he believes that five races on the ballot can be hand counted in just two days. That seems optimistic, given issues in rural Nye County, Nevada, where a nascent hand-count effort was beset with issues before the state Supreme Court halted it last week. County officials there are tallying more than two dozen races and are pledging to restart the count as soon as possible.

Cochise County’s full hand count was blessed by the Republican attorney general, whose office issued an informal opinion last Friday saying the county could tally all early and Election Day ballots. The secretary of state’s office has said that is illegal, however, and warned that it may sue. It OK-ed hand-tallies of all Election Day ballots but said counting all the early votes, which make up more than 80% of ballots in most counties, would be illegal. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is a Democrat who is running for governor.

An independent group called the Arizona Alliance of Retired Americans did not wait, suing Cochise County and several of its officials on Monday. The presiding judge sent the case to nearby Pima County to avoid a conflict since county officials were named. A judge in Tucson has not yet set a hearing schedule.

The lawsuit seeks an order halting a full hand count of early ballots, echoing the legal view of Hobbs’ office.

The county board’s decision has led to fiery meetings in the past week, with the lone Democrat vowing to do all she could to block the effort and the county attorney siding with the secretary of state and saying a full count would be illegal. At a brief meeting on Tuesday where the board was to talk about hiring outside lawyers for the two Republicans, nothing was accomplished after no one would make a motion to consider the item.

Efforts to hand-count ballots are driven by unfounded concerns among some Republicans that problems with vote-counting machines or voter fraud led to former President Donald Trump’s 2020 defeat.

Supervisors in Pinal County, a much larger and growing suburban area just south of metro Phoenix’s Maricopa County, also have been considering a hand count. That board plans to discuss the issue on Wednesday,

The elected Republican county attorneys in both jurisdictions have warned their respective boards that there is no legal authority to expand a hand-count of ballots.

____

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Arizona county’s ballot hand-count plan challenged in court