2nd Arizona county mulling hand-counts rejects effort

PHOENIX (AP) — The elected leaders of an Arizona county who had considered following the lead of a rural county by expanding their hand-counts of ballots from next week’s election rejected the effort Wednesday.

The majority on the Pinal County board of supervisors said they saw no reason to doubt the current hand-count audits that verify machine tabulation results or expand them to include more precincts as one supervisor proposed.

That leaves rural Cochise County alone in the state in pursuing a full hand-tally of all their ballots, a move that is being challenged in court as illegal.

During Wednesday’s meeting of the all-Republican Pinal County board, Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh proposed doubling or tripling the number of precincts chosen for the post-election hand-count audit.

He pointed to the repeated and unfounded claims by former President Donald Trump about ballot tabulation machines that have fired up his supporters and also said that Hillary Clinton has made similar statements. The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee criticized that year’s election but conceded to Trump, publicly acknowledged his victory and attended his inauguration.

“But as the concerns have been brought to me, the question is, is the machine reliable?” Cavanaugh said. “Are the count of the ballots that come out of machine reliable?”

He asked the board to approve the expansion, to ensure the hand-count sample is large enough to get what he said would be a statistically reliable number of ballots.

The proposal found little support from the other four Republicans on the board, although they took public comment on the issue for more than an hour. Those comments were overwhelmingly against the proposal, even from a local county GOP party leader.

Kathy Nowak, who sits on the executive committee of the county Republican Party, said she’s been involved in the normal hand-count audits a half-dozen times and the tallies matched the machine count every time.

“It seems to me that we are very solid,” Nowak told the board. “I think (expanding the count) is absolutely ridiculous.”

But two local residents vehemently pushed for the higher hand-count number, including Daniel Wood, who argued that the vote tabulation machines the county uses are not legally certified.

“Over 200 years, we have had a hand-count in this nation of the people, for the people and by the people,” Woods, who said he was a combat veteran, told the board. “All of a sudden we use machines and it’s no longer legal. That’s horse crap.”

County Attorney Kent Volkmer debunked that argument at a recent board meeting, showing the federal certifications for the machines.

Others urged the board to flatly reject the expanded hand-count proposal, calling it a way for those who deny President Joe Biden’s victory to gin up controversy and saying it has nothing to do with election integrity.

“This is all about stirring the pot and sowing distrust in our system, often with wild-eyed conspiracy theories because of their candidate’s loss,” said Noel Reck, a Democrat from Casa Grande. “I urge the board not to validate or placate election-deniers and vote against this costly and unnecessary expanded hand-count.”

Board member Stephen Miller said he was confident in the county’s Recorder and election director and that the typical audits confirm the accuracy of the tabulation machines. He also said it is up to the Legislature to decide if the required hand-tally of ballots from 2% of the precincts on up to five races needed to be expanded.

“I think it’s been accurate enough, and I believe it’s going to be a fair election,” Miller said. “And I think that there’s no reason to go down this path of changing the rules, just before the election.”

The rejection of the expanded hand-count in Pinal County, a once-rural area just south of the Phoenix metro area that has seen an explosion of growth in the past decade, stood in stark contrast to the approach in southeast Arizona’s Cochise County.

There, the two Republicans on that three-member board last week pushed though a plan with backing from the GOP county Recorder to hand-count all early and Election Day ballots.

Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued an informal opinion last week saying hand-counting all the ballots to ensure they matched the machine tally was legal. His view goes against that of the secretary of state’s election director, who said in letters to the board that while Election Day ballots can all be hand-counted, that is illegal for early ballots, which make up more than 80% of Arizona votes.

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

An independent group called the Arizona Alliance of Retired Americans sued Cochise County and several of its officials on Monday to stop the expanded hand-count. A judge plans to hear arguments in the case on Friday.

A similar effort in Nye County, Nevada, was halted by that state’s Supreme Court last week, but officials there are vowing to restart the count as soon as possible.

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