A small border county in Arizona has voted to audit the manual counting of all ballots, in defiance of legal warnings from the county attorney and threats of lawsuits and investigations.
The decision creates a wave of uncertainty for county election workers just two weeks before Election Day and with early voting, the primary way Arizonans vote, already underway.
Cochise County is the latest to pursue a manual count, based on false claims of a stolen 2020 election and compromised tabulation machines. The county, which voted for Trump in 2020, had about 75,000 registered voters in the August primary. In the 2018 midterm elections, around 46,000 people voted there. Nye County, Nevada, which plans to count its ballots by hand, was sued over the move.
The Cochise County Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 to approve the hand count, with both Republican members voting in favor. But the next steps in the count – and whether it will happen at all – are still up in the air, as legal threats loom and election officials await details on exactly how they might follow the council’s directive.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ office warned the county that it would be sued if the manual count was approved, saying there was no legal precedent for the move. There is no evidence that manual ballot counting is more accurate; in fact, manual counts tend to be more expensive and less accurate, leaving more room for human error.
County attorney Brian McIntyre has repeatedly told council he cannot legally initiate a full hand count, telling council members they could be personally liable for any legal fees arising from the ruling. if they went against his advice.
“Ultimately, the legislature is the appropriate place to address this issue. This is how government works – not unilaterally deciding to go in a new direction because of the will of an outspoken section of the public. Also, you cannot order county employees to violate the law,” McIntyre, a Republican, told the council.
The county insurer also told the board that its insurance may not cover them in a lawsuit because it ignored legal advice.
A Republican state lawmaker, Rep. Joel John, told the county he would file a complaint that the county is breaking state law if it does the manual count, which puts a portion of the county’s funds at risk.
Hobbs office sent a letter to the county Tuesday, asking for details on manual count plans and reiterating state law and procedures for how manual counts can be conducted, saying she wanted the board to confirm that it would not conduct a complete manual counting of ballots. She gave the council until late Wednesday to respond or face a lawsuit.
The board initially rejected a proposal at Monday’s meeting for a full count by volunteers who wanted to help people “who have lost faith in elections to see that elections are reliable and safe in our county,” indicates the item on the agenda.
But the proposal approved by the council does not look much different. The county will tabulate its results using tabulating machines and then conduct a 100% manual counting audit of the county’s ballots, which must be completed before the results are reviewed.
“It is well known that many voters lack confidence in the electoral system. A countywide 100% hand count audit of the 2022 general election will build voter confidence. It will provide proof of concept for emergency backup should the voting machine(s) fail in the future,” the proposal states.
However, it remains unclear how many ballots would be manually counted and how a manual count would comply with state law. Lawyers analyzing the proposal have come to different conclusions about what the proposal directs the county to do, exactly. Manual counting could be for only certain precincts or certain types of ballots, or it could be for all ballots. The Secretary of State’s letter seeks to clarify what the council meant by its vote.
State election procedures establish specific rules for manual counting after tabulation, which typically involves bipartisan manual counting of a small percentage of precincts or ballots.
Four hours of testimony on the proposals included widespread and baseless allegations of voter fraud by some speakers, while others urged the county not to waste money and cause chaos amid voting.
Supervisor Peggy Judd, who voted for the hand count, was undeterred by the potential illegality of the hand count. “I could take advice all day and probably not change my mind. But I would really like to have this chance, take this chance. And my heart and my work have been there and I don’t want to back down. Then I could go to jail. Well,” she said at the reunion.
Board Chair Ann English, a Democrat who voted against the manual count, said she hadn’t seen any details on exactly how a manual count would be done.
“No research, no money, no time. In other words, no specifics,” she said at Monday’s board meeting.
The meeting ended on an uncertain note and more meetings will be needed to determine what happens next.
“I’ll have to check with the county attorney because I’m not sure we can say this will go ahead if it’s determined to be illegal,” English said. “Do you have a comment on that? she asked McIntyre.
“We have to wait until tomorrow brings us,” McIntyre said.