PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona’s Republican attorney general has issued an opinion saying county clerks can hand-count all ballots in at least five races from the Nov. 8 election, a move that gives officials the green light of the Republican Party in at least two counties that insisted on a hand count.
Efforts to manually count ballots are driven by unfounded fears among some Republicans, problems with vote counting machines or voter fraud led to former President Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020.
The attorney general’s new opinion prompted the two Republicans on the three-member Cochise County Board of Supervisors to boost their plan to hand-count some races both on early ballots and on Election Day. They had promised to scale back the effort on Wednesday.
Under state law, local leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties would have to provide hundreds of volunteers to do the count.
In a heated meeting Friday, Democratic Supervisor Anne English said she would do everything she could to prevent the county’s Democratic Party chair from securing those workers.
“My greatest hope is that if I have any power, I can somehow convince the Cochise County Democratic Party Chairman not to provide people for this fiasco, that would be my intention,” English said. “Because I think every day that we discuss this, people are wondering, ‘what’s wrong with our election.’ “
That comment came after GOP Supervisor Peggy Judd said she wanted to move forward and GOP Supervisor Tom Crosby strongly pushed back against English’s opposition and efforts to stop the full recount.
“I’m fine talking about how it’s going to happen, but all you want to do is not do it,” Crosby said. “So I’m not interested in that discussion — I’m interested in the discussion of how it’s going to be done.”
The Cochise County Democratic Party fielded inquiries about whether they will send volunteers for Saturday’s expanded hand count to the state party. Arizona Democratic Party spokeswoman Morgan Dick said party officials are consulting with their attorneys on the matter.
The county party did post on their Facebook page on Saturday, saying they were “more than disappointed with yesterday’s circus of a meeting”.
“Judd, Crosby and (County Rep. David) Stevens are hell-bent on appeasing the MAGA election deniers instead of doing what’s right for our county,” the post continued.
Hand counting will be done in conjunction with the machine count and the machine count will be used for the legal results.
The informal opinion, issued Friday by Attorney General Mark Burnovich’s office, came as the board battled with Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. She warned officials there not to extend the required small number of hands to all races because it is illegal. Hobbs is the state’s top elected official and is running for governor.
Hobbs gave them permission to manually count all Election Day ballots in four races, but she said it would be illegal to do so for early votes, which make up more than 80 percent of the state’s ballots. The normal manual count audits required by law to ensure the accuracy of ballot counting machines cover only a small percentage of ballots.
Deputy Attorney General Bernovich’s opinion states that the county can manually count all ballots in up to five races.
Hobbs’ office said it disagreed and that the law does not allow early voting.
“With early voting already underway and election day less than two weeks away, these antics do nothing more than create chaos and confusion around the election and ballot counting, which is extremely irresponsible,” it said statement from Hobbs’ office.
Supervisors in Pinal County, a much larger and growing suburban area south of metro Phoenix’s Maricopa County, are also considering a hand count. Both councils have meetings scheduled next week to discuss the issue.
The elected Republican district attorneys in both jurisdictions have warned their respective boards that there is no legal authority to expand manual ballot counting.
“At this point, it would be illegal to do a full hand count,” Pinal County District Attorney Kent Folkmer told his board Wednesday.
Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre told the board he also believed the full hand count was illegal and said the board and County Recorder David Stevens would have to find outside attorneys if they went ahead. He repeated that Friday after Supervisor Judd said Bernovich gave the go-ahead.
He also noted that the effort runs afoul of a legal doctrine established by the U.S. Supreme Court that states election rules and procedures cannot be changed close to an election.
Efforts to count ballots in Nevada’s rural Nye County have been beset with problems, including a slow count and a legal challenge that forced the effort to halt Thursday night. Officials in the GOP-led district vowed to resume efforts as soon as they could.
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