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As northern Arizona county makes ballot hand-count plan, Secretary of State steps in

Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes wrote a letter to the Mojave County Commissioner on Tuesday, one day after regulators in northwestern Arizona counties voted for a plan to hand-count ballots in the 2024 presidential election. He said he feared the state would collapse if this went on. and federal law may be unsafe and may lead to inaccurate results.

“Manual ballot counting is highly prone to human error, and as a result, it takes a long time to arrive at an accurate final result,” Fontes, a Democrat, said. “But even assuming accurate and final results, state law does not allow county boards to unilaterally replace certified and tested electronic tallying devices with a count.”

Monday’s vote by Republican supervisors was almost unanimous, with one of the supervisors, Gene Bishop, voting against. He ordered the county’s elections officials to come up with a plan to manually count all ballots cast in the upcoming presidential election.

In a statement he addressed to Votebeat shortly after, sent a letter to the supervisorFontes said, “The plan to start manually counting votes for future elections [county election] Officials are in serious legal danger, including possible criminal liability, for violating state law. ”

“County officials are urged to consider the potential harm to the electoral system, voters and taxpayers that the introduction of electoral procedures that have no verification or legal basis,” he said.

In response, supervisory board chair Travis Lingenfelter wrote to Fontes, saying it was an “interesting letter and duly pointed out”.

“Thank you for your concern for the well-being of Mojave County,” he wrote. “Mojave County has its own County Attorney’s Office, with a dedicated elections director and staff, and working closely with them, our board will be able to fully evaluate, evaluate and understand the estimated total cost and time. I would like to share what I believe is no harm.” Efforts such as those discussed yesterday would include it. ”

A spokeswoman said Fontes’ office learned of the regulator’s vote after VoteBeat reached out for comment on Monday.

Mojave and others are only recently considering hand-counting ballots in Arizona, along with some Republican leaders and residents. We continue to call for a ban on vote tallying machines Elections were held statewide in 2020 following false claims that the votes were shuffled. The Pinal County Election Commissioner is now Conducting a trial count of test ballots As directed by the prefectural supervisor.Cochise County regulators said they remained interested in the idea despite it being contested in court. thwart their tampering audit scheme November of last year.

The Mojave Supervisory Authority vote followed impassioned speeches by two Republican state senators, Sonny Borelli, representing the county, and Wendy Rogers, representing another area in northern Arizona. Senators pressured regulators to hand-count the ballots, telling regulators they expected the rest of the state to lead.

“I don’t know if you, ladies and gentlemen, are aware, but it’s a truly historic opportunity to be in this room right now,” Rogers said.

Senate Majority Leader Borrelli A letter last month to all 15 county supervisors in the state It falsely said that a non-binding Senate resolution passed by Congress earlier this year bars counties from using tally machines in the 2024 election. He sent the document himself, but a Senate Republican spokesman said Senate leadership did not agree with it.

Borrelli downplayed the letter on Monday, saying it “seemed pretty heavy-handed, but it wasn’t the intention,” and instead stated that counties were required by state law to pass resolutions to allow counts by hand. and argued that no law was necessary. I will not ban it.

“The media in other prefectures and other regulators are trying to convince people of the myth,” he said. “It’s not obligatory, so you don’t have to use the equipment.”

Fontes’ letter says otherwise. He cites case law explaining that county regulators have only powers “expressly conferred by statute” and cannot act beyond those powers. He also wrote that under federal law, states must follow plans set out for the use of secure voting systems under the Help America Vote Act.

In addition to legal concerns, manual counting does not have the rigorous processes and procedures to ensure the “completeness, accuracy and security” of machine counting, Fontes wrote.

“This lack of accountability can lead to significant human error,” he wrote.

Borrelli told regulators he believed he would be prosecuted if things continued.

“If they want to file a lawsuit, file a lawsuit. I have an army ready to fight behind me,” he said.

Mojave’s proposed plan would be different from Cochise County’s plan, which was blocked by a judge in November. Mr. Cochise plans to continue counting ballots by machine for the initial count, but then by counting all ballots by hand as part of a statutory manual count audit, the county will be able to vote early and on Election Day. The idea was to allow only a small number of random samples to be aggregated. .

Director Buster Johnson told Votebeat that Fontes’ letter was not surprising. He does not support a count, which is why he wanted to specify that the vote was not to approve a count, but to consider what it would require, he said. Stated.

“I expect the board to come to the right decision as it moves forward,” he said.

Bishop, the only supervisor to vote against, told Votebeat that he thinks planning is a waste of time and resources.

“I think this is all just political injustice.”

The Mojaves voted to count the ballots by hand, even after their election officials explained in detail why it wouldn’t work.

Allen Tempert, who has been the county’s elections administrator for more than 20 years, told regulators that an accurate manual count is very difficult, takes weeks and costs a lot of money.election experts and many the study It turns out that counting the ballots by hand is a long way off. Poor accuracy and less efficient.

Mr. Tempert told regulators that he could not even secure enough voters to run the election, let alone recruit the multiple bipartisan teams needed to count.

“My biggest concern, and Senator Borrelli’s biggest concern, is accuracy and doing it right,” he said. But unlike Borrelli, he believes machines are more accurate. “Maybe it’s because I voted very well. Maybe it’s because I’ve been tested for years and I’ve never lost a penny on any test I’ve ever had. ”

Supervisors had just spent hours discussing how the county was facing a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall. Still, they didn’t seem to be deterred by the price tag.

“I think it’s worth investigating,” said supervisor Hildy Angius. who said before Balancing the county’s budget is one of her top priorities.

Starting in 2020, other attempts to manually tally ballots across the country will take weeks to months, require dozens to hundreds of workers, and produce inaccurate results. Shows how difficult it is.State Senate Ordered Partisan Review 2.1 million Maricopa County 2020 election ballotsFor example, Cyber ​​Ninja and its contractors cost over three months, millions of dollars, hundreds of volunteers, and required votes to vote. repeated many times in order to get accurate results. In Nevada last year, workers in Nye County took longer than expected to count by hand. at a pace of about 2,000 votes one day.

The Mojave Supervisory Authority represents one of the most Republican counties in the state. Board majority in 2020 initially rejected To certify election results. in 2022several supervisors said they were unwilling to certify, but the county attorney said state law requires supervisors to certify the results presented.

Prior to Tuesday’s agenda, regulators received legal advice from the county attorney’s office at a closed-door executive board meeting, according to the meeting agenda. At subsequent public meetings, they did not consult a lawyer’s office on the matter.

Like other counties proposing hand-counting ballots, Mojave regulators said on Monday the problem wasn’t with the election, but with Maricopa and Pima counties, praising election officials. bottom. Recount Each of these counties was found to have counted their ballots accurately, and an independent investigation into the ballot printing problem in Maricopa County was conducted. found They ultimately did not affect the accuracy of the election.

Tempert told supervisors that when he lived in Pennsylvania, before moving to Arizona, he tried to lead a team that hand-counted one race on a 65,000-vote ballot. It took two months, he said. About 83,000 votes were cast in the November Mojave County election, averaging 21 ballots.

After an initial count, a statewide recount would mean starting over again with a bipartisan team, he said.

After Mr. Tempert’s remarks, Mr. Rogers told supervisors to applaud the board: “Counties don’t act until some heroic counties do. It’s you.” . She then reminded herself and Borelli of their military service.

“If someone says it’s impossible, I don’t accept it,” she said, “250 years of blood and treasure, and the people of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guards, I never said it was impossible.” Do it. they did. It’s about mission. ”

Angius said he would like to see a report showing how much it would cost.

“At least, if this is what you want, we can present it to the public to tell them this is what they need,” she said.

Votebeat is a non-profit news organization covering vote access and election administration across the United States. Sign up for our free newsletter here.

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