Arizona's top state elections office on Tuesday ordered a rural county board to spell out in writing exactly how it plans to tally ballots in the midterm elections after it voted 2-1 to approve a “100% county-wide hand count audit” of the votes.
Confusion over just what the Cochise County Board of Supervisors did at an hourslong meeting on Monday remained widespread a day later, with the action described by detractors and supporters alike as a full hand count.
The letter from the Secretary of State's office said it had “serious concerns” about the board's intentions “particularly considering the lack of any details" and "the fact that the election is just two weeks away.”
The letter dated Tuesday and signed by State Elections Director Kori Lorick said the board's response must be received by 5 p.m. Wednesday or "the Secretary will deem the Board’s silence to be an admission that it is threatening to proceed without or in excess of jurisdiction or legal authority.”
Lorick said a specific Arizona statute cited in the measure approved for a “precinct hand count” details rules on how such a count can be carried out. For example, early ballots, which comprise about 80% of votes in Arizona, cannot be included, Lorick said.
“The SOS letter was not a surprise and we were aware of all the items she referred to in the statute except for early ballots being off-limits. I am investigating that further,” said Supervisor Peggy Judd, who joined fellow Republican Tom Crosby in voting for the measure. “Our intention was to follow all applicable statutes concerning hand count voting.”
Democrat Ann English voted against it, warning of possible legal liability. It was unclear who would write the response letter to the Secretary of State's office.
“I have no information on how the board members think their vote can be accomplished since the County Attorney has given the legal advice it is an illegal action,” English responded.
Republican Kari Lake grabbed onto the letter to bash Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Democrat she is competing against for the governor's seat in the upcoming election.
Lake accused Hobbs of arrogance toward local officials “who are trying to restore faith and confidence in our elections” and said the Cochise board has every right “to expand the statutory hand count.”
A federal judge in August dismissed a lawsuit by Lake and Mark Finchem, the Republican nominee to replace Hobbs as secretary of state. The suit sought to require the state’s officials to count ballots by hand in November because of unfounded claims of voting machine problems.
There’s no evidence in Arizona or elsewhere in the United States that fraud, problems with ballot-counting equipment, or other voting issues had any impact on the 2020 presidential election outcome. The board members in heavily Republican Cochise County have been under intense pressure to allow a hand count of all ballots from voters who believed false claims of fraud in the 2020 vote.
During Monday's chaotic meeting lasting hours, the supervisors unanimously rejected a first measure calling for a hand count. That proposal referred to 100 volunteers who had already been vetted and trained to do the counting.
The differently worded second measure that passed 2-1 called for a “100% county-wide hand count audit,” which many, including Cochise County Recorder David Stevens, assumed would be a count of every ballot cast.
“My understanding is that was their intention, to hand count every ballot,” Stevens said of the Republican board members.