Arizona AG gives county OK for full ballot hand counts

PHOENIX (AP) – Arizona’s Republican attorney general has issued an opinion that county officials can hand-count all ballots in at least five races from the Nov. 8 election, a move that gives GOP officials the green light in at least two counties. Clamoring has been done for a hand count.

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

The new attorney general’s opinion drew two Republicans to the three-member Cochise County Board of Supervisors to boost his plan to count some races by hand in both early and Election Day voting. They vowed to withdraw the effort on Wednesday.

Under state law, local leaders from both the Democratic and Republican parties must provide hundreds of volunteers for the count.

In a fiery meeting Friday, Democratic Supervisor Ann English said she would do everything she could to stop the county Democratic Party chairman from providing those workers.

“It would be my greatest hope, if I had any power, that I could persuade the chairman of the Democratic Party in Cochise County not to provide the people with this fiasco that would be my motive,” English said. “Because I think every day that we’re discussing this, people are wondering, ‘What’s wrong with our elections.’ “

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That comment came after GOP Supervisor Peggy Judd said she wanted to proceed, and Republican Supervisor Tom Crosby pushed hard over English’s opposition and efforts to block a full count.

“I’m talking about how this is going to be done, but what you want to do is not get it done,” Crosby said. “So, I’m not interested in that discussion — I’m interested in the discussion of how it’s going to happen.”

The Cochise County Democratic Party referred an inquiry Saturday to the state party about whether it would send volunteers for an extended hand count. Arizona Democratic Party spokeswoman Morgan Dick said party officials are consulting with their attorneys on the matter.

The county party posted on its Facebook page on Saturday that it was “disappointed in the circus of yesterday’s meeting.”

“Judd, Crosby and (County Recorder David) Stevens are too condescending to appease the MAGA election naysayers instead of doing what’s right for our county,” the post continued.

Hand counting will be accompanied by machine counting, and machine counting will be used for legal results.

The informal opinion issued Friday by Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office comes as the board battles Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. She warned officials there not to extend the required small hand count to all races because it is illegal. Hobbs is the state’s top election official and is running for governor.

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Hobbs gave her the OK to hand-count all Election Day ballots in four races, but she said it would be illegal to do so for early voting, which makes up more than 80% of ballots in the state. General hand-count audits are required under the law to ensure the accuracy of vote counting machines, which cover only a small percentage of ballots.

Brunovich’s deputy solicitor general’s opinion said the county could hand-count all ballots in up to five races.

Hobbs’ office said they disagree and the law does not allow for early voting.

“Early voting is well under way less than two weeks from Election Day and these moves are doing nothing but creating chaos and confusion around the election and the tabulation of ballots, which is highly irresponsible,” Hobbs’ office said in a statement.

Supervisors in Pinal County, a large and growing suburban area south of metro Phoenix’s Maricopa County, are also considering a hand count. A meeting of both the boards has been planned next week to discuss the issue.

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

“It would be illegal to count a full hand at this point,” Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer told his board Wednesday.

Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre has told the board he also believes the full hand count is illegal and said the board and County Recorder David Stevens will need to seek outside attorneys if they move forward. He repeated that Friday, with Supervisor Judd saying Brnovich had moved on.

He also noted that the effort runs counter to a legal principle established by the US Supreme Court that says election rules and procedures cannot be changed close to an election.

Efforts to count ballots in rural Nevada’s Nye County have been beset with problems, including slow calculations and a legal challenge that forced the attempt to stop Thursday night. GOP-led county officials vowed to resume their efforts as soon as possible.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the election here: https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections

See https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections To learn more about the issues and factors driving the 2022 midterm elections.

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