100% manual ballot count blocked;  Arizona County Advances

100% manual ballot count blocked; Arizona County Advances

PHOENIX (AP) — The Board of Supervisors for a southern Arizona county will meet next week to consider counting nearly all ballots cast in person on Election Day, despite an earlier court order limiting the manual counting motivated by an unfounded distrust of the machines that tally the votes.

The actual count may begin before Tuesday’s scheduled meeting of the Cochise County Council, and the local prosecutor warns that starting it at any time could result in criminal charges.

The measures come just days after a judge ruled that state law bars the expansion of the normal small manual check of advance ballots. It also ruled that a manual count of 100% of the ballots on election day is illegal because any extension of the constituencies chosen for such reviews must be chosen at random.

The Republican-dominated Cochise County Board of Directors is taking that part of the order at face value, proposing to expand the tally to 99.9% of votes cast on Election Day, ostensibly to respect the random norm.

County District Attorney-elect Brian McIntyre told the board and his attorneys in a Thursday letter that proceeding with the plan could result in felony charges against the participants for violating numerous laws.

“I have alerted the appropriate authorities to the potential violations based on statements from two elected officials related to this,” McIntyre wrote. “I sincerely hope that no action will be asked of them and that the rule of law will prevail.”

He noted that the ballots are held by the County Elections Officer, and removing them or interfering with his work to certify the results would be among the crimes committed if Republican County Secretary David Stevens took the ballots for the county. count by hand.

Nor will he go unchallenged by the group who sued and won a court order on Monday to arrest him. They promised another challenge if Cochise County officials deviate from the court order.

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

It is unclear when the manual count will begin. Stevens said earlier this week he hoped to start on Monday. And Tuesday’s meeting agenda says the count could begin before board approval. But Stevens no longer responds to direct questions on the matter.

The article notes that Stevens lined up more than 200 volunteers to tally the results of four races.

“They want to participate in this way to help people (including a few of the attendees) who have lost faith in the elections to see that the elections are reliable and secure in our county,” the agenda reads. “Two other outcomes of this manual count will simply be a broader random selection audit of machine accuracy and a test of our backup plan in case some or all of our machines are compromised or fail at the last minute. ”

The two Republicans who hold the majority on the County Board and Stevens are appealing Monday’s ruling, but the state Supreme Court declined to expedite the appeal in an order released Friday. The Arizona Court of Appeals also declined to expedite it, instead setting a normal briefing schedule that would put off any decision.

Board member Peggy Judd did not return a call Friday seeking comment, and Stevens declined to comment further on how and when he would manually tally the vast majority of the nearly 12,000 votes. cast at polling stations on Tuesday. Another 27,000 voters cast their ballots early, but there’s no way around a Pima County Superior Court judge’s ruling blocking the expansion of normal 1% manual verification of those ballots.

State law sets out the rules for manual count audits that are used to verify machines used to tally votes in Arizona. For Election Day ballots, counties can choose 2% of county precincts, or two precincts, for manual counting. The decision says the council can extend this, but only if it is done randomly.

The Cochise County moves could delay the county’s required voter certification on Nov. 23 and ripple at the state level.

The normal small manual count is expected to be conducted Saturday by the county’s chief electoral officer, who opposes the expansion. The four races to be checked were drawn at the start of the week with representatives of the political parties present.

Stevens made his own race pick, but Democrats declined to participate, said Jim Barton, an attorney representing the Arizona Democratic Party.

“I think that little ‘we’ll just do 99%’ shows a kind of disregard for the law that’s just shocking,” Barton said. “The fact that Cochise County elected officials are engaging in this kind of behavior is embarrassing.”

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

See https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections.

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