PHOENIX (AP) — A judge on Monday blocked a rural Arizona county’s plan to conduct a full manual ballot count for the current election — a move requested by Republican officials who have expressed concerns. unfounded concerns that vote-counting machines are untrustworthy.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Casey F. McGinley’s decision came after a full-day hearing Friday in which opponents presented their case and called witnesses. An appeal of the judge’s decision is likely. Election day is Tuesday.
McGinley said the County Board of Supervisors exceeded its legal authority by ordering the county clerk to count all ballots in the election that ends Tuesday rather than the small sample required by state law. .
Opponents who sued to stop the proposed manual count — a group called the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans — argued that state law only allows a small manual count of early ballots for ensure the accuracy of counting machines. Members of the group argued that a last-minute change would create chaos and potentially delay the certification of election results. Cochise County Chief Electoral Officer Lisa Marra also objected to the expanded count plan and testified about how it could delay results and jeopardize poll security.
The lawsuit only challenged a full manual count of about 30,000 advance ballots, but the ruling went further by blocking manual counting of early ballots and those cast on Election Day.
McGinley wrote that state election laws establish a detailed procedure for randomly choosing which Election Day ballots are chosen for the standard manual count.
“This whole process would be rendered redundant if the court were to interpret (this section) to initially select 100% of the constituency ballots as a starting point,” the judge wrote. “Because the law does not allow election officials to begin the manual counting of the precinct by counting all ballots cast, the Council’s requirement that election officials do so here is illegal.”
The early voting process has different rules, but specifically states that it must stop once this small sample matches the number of machines. This count starts with 2% of the constituencies or 5,000 ballots, whichever is lower.
“Because the council directive would require the initial verification of approximately 30,000 advance ballots, that is not permitted by the plain language of (the law),” McGinley said.
Retirees Group President Saundra Cole called the decision a big win for county voters, especially retirees who often vote early.
“All voters have the right to cast a ballot that will be counted — in the most accurate way possible,” Cole said in a statement. “Elected officials must respect the law and this decision affirms the rule of law.
The push for manual counts follows a barrage of attacks on ballot-counting machines by former President Donald Trump and his allies after the 2020 election, which embraced various conspiracy theories. Election experts say the machines are faster and more accurate than manual vote counting. They are extensively tested and exhaustive reviews have found no issues with them.
Peggy Judd, one of two Republicans on the three-member Cochise County Board of Supervisors who voted to manually count all ballots, said she did so because many his constituents thought it was important.
“And I could have said there was no evidence, but they said ‘Can’t we just do this? We want to volunteer, we want to do it,” Judd said. “What would have hurt?” »
She said she doesn’t know if an appeal will take place, but if so, she doesn’t want the taxpayers to cover her share.
“I’m thrilled to have a decision to have something to do,” Judd said. “I’m always 100% sure that what we were doing was right and the right thing to do.
The council voted to move forward despite opposition from the county’s Republican-elected prosecutor and Democratic Secretary of State’s chief election officer Katie Hobbs. The two said a full manual count of advance ballots is illegal under state election law. Hobbs is running for governor.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, issued an informal opinion Oct. 28 siding with the council.
Cochise County Republican Recorder David Stevens, who was commissioned by the County Board of Supervisors to conduct the count, never oversaw a manual count; this is Marra’s role. She testified on Friday that she planned to do the normal post-election manual count. She also criticized the method Stevens chose to use, saying it was error-prone.
The county and its attorneys relied on a section of the state’s election procedures manual written by the secretary of state’s office that allows counties to choose more early ballots for counting audit manual, claiming it gave them the power to do a 100% count by hand. McGinley said that because this phrase is not in current election law, it “runs contrary to (the law) and its requirement that the initial audit of the manual count not exceed a review of 5,000 ballots of voting”.
Stevens said he was surprised by this part of the decision.
“The procedures manual was developed and drafted with the help of the clerks and the directors of elections, approved by the secretary of state, approved by the governor and the attorney general and now this line is illegal?” Stevens asked. “The court has ruled – what should I do? I just find it strange that they can pick a line and say “it’s illegal”.
Stevens, who along with the board has been named as a defendant, said a decision on an appeal has yet to be made.
The two Cochise County Republican supervisors who voted in favor of the 100% hand count rather than the small sample that is counted in all other elections were pressured into doing so by people who believe the unsubstantiated claims of the former President Donald Trump that fraud or problems with voting-counting machines led to his downfall in 2020. The lone Democrat on the board opposed manual counting.
A Nevada county is also pushing for a full count to appease Trump supporters, but is fighting with the secretary of state over count rules, while leaders in another GOP-run county in Arizona have rejected a similar effort last week.
The hand tally would have covered four races chosen by lottery: one statewide elected, one federal race, one from the state legislature and one statewide ballot measure.
Marra testified that holding a full manual count would jeopardize the county’s certification of the election, which is expected to take place by Nov. 22. This could delay statewide certification, which should trigger recounts because the threshold for mandatory recounts has been significantly increased. by the legislature earlier this year. In the worst-case scenario, she said, it could lead to delays in electing the newly elected in January.
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