In Court, An Arizona County Official Was Questioned About The Hand-Count Plan

Arizona (AP) — In a case launched by opponents of an unusual plan driven by local officials who doubt the accuracy of ballot-counting machines and want to manually count all the ballots in the election that closes next week, a southern Arizona judge heard from a procession of witnesses on Friday.

One of those speaking out was a Republican elected official from rural Cochise County who has agreed to take over the county election director’s regular task of conducting a post-election audit of the vote count by hand, this time expanding it from a modest effort using a sample of ballots to a massive effort covering four races on about 40,000 ballots.

The elections director admitted that if carrying out the plan results in breaking the law, she could be charged with a felony.

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Lawyers for a retiree organisation attempting to thwart the plan grilled Cochise County Recorder David Stevens in court. He justified the proposal, which is extremely rare and almost unheard of in the state.

Despite the fact that the group is disproportionately skewed towards registered Republicans, Stevens said he intends to begin the hand-count Tuesday once voting is completed with the help of more than 250 volunteers from three different political parties.

He made a promise to abide by the law that specifies guidelines for the much smaller hand-count audits performed to examine machine vote-counting machinery. However, he recognised that by doing so, he is avoiding the county elections director, who is required by law to monitor the procedure and hold the votes in a secure location.

And in response to inquiries from Lalitha Madduri, the attorney for the Arizona Alliance of Retired Americans, Stevens stated that he intended to count approximately 30,000 early ballots despite legal provisions that limit early ballot hand-count audits to 1% of the total early ballots cast or 5,000 ballots, whichever is less, and that they be randomly chosen. She claimed that prevents a complete hand count of the early votes.

The Cochise County Board of Supervisors approved the idea and gave Stevens permission to carry out the count, according to Stevens. The legality of it will be determined by the court, he said. However, they did cast a vote, and by a two to one margin, they approved of what I was going to do.

People who believe former President Donald Trump’s baseless assertions that fraud or counting issues with voting machines caused his defeat in 2020 encouraged the two Republican supervisors to vote for a 100% hand-count rather than the tiny sample used in every previous election. The hand-count was contested by the board’s lone Democrat.

Judge Casey F. McGinley of the Pima County Superior Court is charged with determining whether the county board of supervisors is permitted to extend the hand-count audits to all early ballots under the specific state law. The case is being heard in Bisbee because the local county court declared a conflict. Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is also running for governor, claims that state law only permits a sample of early votes to be counted.

However, Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich released a non-binding opinion last week stating that all the votes can be counted by hand. A full hand count is also being advocated for by a Nevada county to appease Trump fans, although this week, a similar proposal was rejected by GOP-led officials in another Arizona county.

After a day-long hearing, McGinley declared that there was no way he could rule from the bench because the attorneys for the county supervisors, Stevens, and Lisa Marra on the one side, and the retiree organisation and Elections Director Lisa Marra on the other, had supplied so much information.

Instead, he pledged to make a decision on Monday morning and stated that he fully anticipated the loser will immediately file an appeal.

The amount of information offered nowadays, according to McGinley, is just too much. There was “far too much significant witness, far too much vital argument, and quite honestly, far too important a matter” for the court to attempt to resolve by today’s deadline of 5 p.m.

Marra stated that she might be prosecuted with a crime for violating election law if the regulations Stevens creates are unconstitutional since she is responsible for carrying out the post-election audits. She added that delivering the ballots to Stevens would violate the ballots’ secure chain of custody and that extending the count puts the deadline for certification on November 18 in jeopardy.

In contrast to ballots cast in person on Election Day, the legislation does not permit a full hand-count of early ballots, according to legal counsel for the retiree group Arizona Alliance of Retired Americans.

And Stephani Stephenson, who is the named plaintiff in the case and resides in the unincorporated area of St. David in Cochise County, Arizona, said during her testimony that she was concerned that a hurried and unusual process may endanger her right to vote. She claimed that the current system has her trust.

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Stephenson stated, “I realise that people have spent years to come up with a process. At this time, no, I don’t trust that if my county suddenly takes a different path.

McGinley grilled Stevens on the standard recount procedures and honed in on a provision of the election regulations drafted by the secretary of state that permits counties to expand the hand-count at their discretion despite having no legal basis for doing so. He also questioned how guidelines for allowable error margins between hand-count audits would apply to a full recount.

Stevens stated that in his opinion, a full hand count does not require a margin, and whichever count was ultimately determined would be the one that was formally certified. What the board discussed when it decided to do a comprehensive hand-count as a test of the official machine count goes counter to that.

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