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Arizona County Official Grilled in Court Over Hand Count Plan

Arizona County Official Grilled in Court Over Hand Count Plan

PHOENIX (AP) – A southern Arizona judge heard a parade of witnesses Friday in a case brought by opponents of an unusual plan led by local officials that questions the accuracy of ballot counting machines and wants to manually count all ballots in the coming election. next week.

Among those taking a stand was a Republican elected official in rural Cochise County who agreed to take over the county election director’s usual job of manually conducting a post-election audit of the vote count — this time expanding it from a small effort using a sample of ballots to a large one covering four races on about 40,000 ballots.

The elections director testified that she faces a potential felony if the implementation of the plan ends up breaking the law.

Lawyers representing a a group of retirees sued to block the effort. He defended the plan, which is highly unusual and almost unprecedented in the state.

Stevens said he plans to begin the count after voting closes Tuesday and use more than 250 volunteers he has recruited from three political parties, although the group leans heavily toward registered Republicans. He promised to follow a law that sets the rules for much smaller audits of hand counts that are done to check machine vote counting equipment. But he admitted he was bypassing the county director of elections, who by law oversees the process and is responsible for keeping ballots safe.

In response to questions from Arizona Association of Retired Americans attorney Lalitha Madduri, Stevens said he plans to count about 30,000 early ballots despite provisions in the law that limit control of early ballot counts to 1% or 5,000 ballots, whichever is less, and that they choose randomly. That precludes a full manual count of early votes, she said.

Stevens said the Cochise County Board of Supervisors voted on the plan and authorized him to conduct the count.

“The court will decide whether it is legal or not,” he said. “But they voted – it was two to one – they voted for me to do it and 100% of the number.”

Two Republican supervisors who voted for 100% manual counting and not the small sample that has been done every other election has been pushed by people who believe former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that fraud or problems with the voting machines led to his 2020 loss. The lone Democrat on the board opposed the hand-count.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Casey F. McGinley, who is hearing the case in Bisbee after a local district court declared a conflict, is tasked with deciding whether the state’s detailed hand count audit law allows the county board to extend it to all early voting. Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is running for governor, argues that only a sample of early ballots can be counted under state law.

Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich, however, issued an informal opinion last week who said all ballots could be counted by hand. A Nevada County also does a full hand count to mollify Trump supporters, while leaders of Arizona’s second district are GOP-led rejected a similar attempt this week.

McGinley said after the day-long hearing that attorneys representing the county supervisors and Stevens on one side and Elections Director Lisa Marra and the retiree group on the other side had provided so much information that there was no way he would rule from the bench.

Instead, he promised a decision on Monday morning and said he fully expected the loser to appeal immediately.

“Too much information was presented today,” McGinley said. “There is too much important testimony, too much important argument, and quite frankly, too much of an issue for this court to rush through in an attempt to get it done by 5 o’clock today.”

Marra is charged with conducting post-election audits and has testified that she faces potential criminal charges for violating election law if the rules Stevens devises stray outside the law. She also said handing the ballots to Stevens would break the secure chain of custody of the ballots and that extending the count jeopardizes meeting the Nov. 18 certification deadline.

Attorneys for the retiree group Arizona Alliance of Retired Americans argued that the law does not allow for a full hand count of early ballots, although it does allow for those ballots cast in person on Election Day.

And Stephanie Stephenson, who lives in the small Cochise County community of St. David was named the prosecutor in this case, she testified that she was afraid that the accelerated and abnormal process would potentially jeopardize her voice. She said she believes in the current system.

“I know people have been working for years to come up with a process,” Stephenson said. “And then all of a sudden, if my district goes down this other path, at this point, no, I don’t believe it.”

McGinley questioned Stevens about the usual recount rules and focused on a section of election rules written by the secretary of state that allows counties to expand recounts at their discretion, which does not appear anywhere in the law. He wondered how the rules on acceptable margins of error between hand count revisions would apply to a full recount.

Stevens said his position is that a full hand count does not require a margin and that what comes out will be what is officially confirmed. This is contrary to what the board discussed when it decided to do a full hand count as a test of the official machine count.

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

Check it out 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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