100% blocked ballot counting. Arizona County is plowing ahead

The board of supervisors in a southern Arizona county will meet next week to consider counting nearly all in-person ballots cast on Election Day, despite an earlier court order limiting hand counting because of unwarranted mistrust of the counting machines votes.

The actual count may begin before Tuesday’s scheduled meeting of the Cochise County Board, and the local district attorney warns that starting at any time could lead to criminal charges.

The moves come just days after a judge ruled that state law prohibits the expansion of normal microscopic checking of early ballots. It also ruled that counting 100% of the Election Day ballots is illegal because any expansion for the districts selected for these reviews must be randomly selected.

The Republican-dominated Cochise County Board is taking that part of the order literally, proposing to extend the count to 99.9 percent of ballots cast on Election Day, apparently to meet the random standard.

County Attorney-elect Brian McIntyre told the board and its attorneys in a letter Thursday that continuing with the plan could lead to felony charges against the participants for violating several laws.

“I have notified the appropriate authorities of possible violations based on statements from two elected officials connected to this,” McIntyre wrote. “It is my sincere hope that no action will be required of them and that the rule of law will prevail.”

He noted that the ballots are held by the county’s director of elections, and removing them or interfering with her work to certify the results would be among the felonies committed if Republican County Recorder David Stevens takes the ballots to count them with the hand.

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

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

It is not clear when hand counting will begin. Stevens said earlier this week that he hoped to start Monday. And the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting says counting can begin before board approval. But Stevens is not now answering direct questions on the matter.

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

“They want to participate in this way to help people (including some of the participants) who have lost confidence in elections see that elections are reliable and safe in our county,” the agenda reads. “Two other effects of this Hand Count will just be a bigger random check on machine accuracy and a test of our backup plan in case some or all of our machines are hacked or fail at the last minute.”

The two Republicans who hold the county board majority and Stevens are appealing Monday’s decision, but the state Supreme Court declined to expedite the appeal in an order released Friday. The Arizona Court of Appeals also refused to rush it, setting instead a regular briefing schedule that would put any rulings months later.

Board member Peggy Judd did not return a call Friday seeking comment, and Stevens declined to comment further on how and when he would conduct the hand count of the vast majority of nearly 12,000 votes cast at polling places Tuesday. Another 27,000 voters cast early ballots, but there’s no way around a Pima County Superior Court judge’s ruling that blocks the expansion of the normal 1 percent of voters checking those ballots.

State law sets the rules for hand counting checks used to verify the machines used to count votes in Arizona. For Election Day ballots, counties may select 2% of the county’s precincts, or two precincts, for the hand count. The ruling says the board can extend it, but only if it’s accidental.

Cochise County’s moves could delay the county’s required Nov. 23 election certification and increase at the state level.

The regular short count will be conducted Saturday by the county elections director, who opposes the expansion. The four races to be scrutinized were chosen by lottery earlier this week with representatives of the political parties present.

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

“I think this little cute ‘we’re just going to do 99%’ shows a kind of disregard for the law that’s just shocking,” Barton said. “For elected officials in Cochise County to engage in this type of behavior is shameful.”

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