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Election distrust in Cochise County runs deep, and change is slow to come | National

In a city built next to an army base in the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains near the Mexican border, crowds gathered to watch the machines they believed were stealing votes.

Chris Wlaschin, head of security for machine manufacturing company Election Systems & Software, brought equipment to the city to try to convince otherwise. In an attempt to engage with the audience, which was largely comprised of veterans, he described himself as a veteran and a patriot.

“I risk too much by not coming here and telling the truth,” Wasin told them.

However, the murmurs in the room suggested that not everyone believed his words.

As he explained how his company strives to ensure accurate and secure voting, some attendees shook their heads or whispered to their neighbors. “We have to believe that our votes are being counted,” said attendee Danny Bergine, who wore a black shirt with a picture of a rifle on it and the words “HELL NO, JOE.” Ta. “And no one trusts machines,” he continued.

More than a year after the midterm elections and the unrest that drew national attention, distrust persists in conservative Cochise County. It was here that Republican watchdogs Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd spoke out in the wake of Republican claims that the gubernatorial election was stolen. Try counting all the ballots by hand and block authentication of county votes.Now, Crosby and Judd. Serious crime pending after a state grand jury found they conspired to interfere with the election.

County officials are trying to restore trust and educate the public about how elections are conducted. Democrats are fielding candidates for all three supervisory seats in an effort to restore “responsible county government.” And Judd said in an interview that he has changed his mind about how much influence he can have on election issues as supervisor.

“It's a national issue,” she said. “That's it, it's decided.”

It is difficult to bring about change in a county that is so influenced by outside voices. Many appear to be determined about the fairness of the election, or are concerned about other issues, such as road work that needs to be done. Their water resources are decreasing. Additionally, the number of illegal border crossings this year is more than double that of last year, overwhelming local resources in communities closest to the border.

Theresa Walsh, a Democrat who is challenging Mr. Crosby in the upcoming election, said these are the issues people want to talk about during the campaign.

“I was going around and talking to people, and they were like, 'Who is Tom Crosby?'” Walsh said. vote beat. “What is a supervisor?”

How did misinformation about the election get to Cochise?

Cochise County, located in the southeast corner of Arizona a few hours from Phoenix, is larger in square miles than the state of Connecticut but has only 125,000 residents. More than half live in small cities and towns scattered across the rugged desert and mountain range, far from Sierra Vista's population centers. Reaching these towns requires going off the main roads, sometimes over an hour.

Long before Wasin came to town, Cochise County residents began hearing from other sources that the election was rigged, but it was the voting machines that made it possible.

Initially, it was former President Donald Trump and unproven claims of vote switching in the 2020 election. Then came gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, whose unproven claims of irregularities and irregularities in Maricopa County's midterm elections have sparked growing disdain for the state's most populous county. It resonated with voters.

“All of a sudden, this bloom appeared,” said Sierra Vista resident Bob Karp, gesturing in a way that suggested an explosion.

Crowds gathered at the 2022 county supervisors meeting to pressure them not to certify the election. After two delays, the court compulsory supervisor Vote yes.

Served as election manager for many years Lisa Mara, who was respected by her peers across the state, left quickly., cited pressure and harassment from supervisors who tried to force her to illegally hand-count all ballots during post-election audits.county given the task of election To County Recorder David Stevens (Republican), expressed doubts about election security It got complicated. Stevens has since hired a new campaign director. Spreading baseless claims of election fraud He resigned in 2020, but did so months later after facing intense criticism.

So the county manager called on recently retired city employee Tim Mattix to come back and take over the job. He did so, but is then kept face down.

At last week's meeting, he was in the back. These voting machine demonstrations were partially his idea, but he did not speak out against them. When it came time to introduce the notable people in the room, the county administrator introduced Stevens and others, but not Mattix.

After the machine demonstration, attendees asked several questions about how people vote in person in the county. While most counties in Arizona use hand-marked paper ballots at polling places, in Cochise County voters make their choices using touch-screen machines. These machines print ballots so voters can confirm their choice before casting their vote to another machine.

Attendees questioned the barcodes on the ballots. The barcode encodes the voter's selection for the counting machine to read. We also had some questions about why the voter check-in system has a secure Wi-Fi connection and how the data is encrypted. Throughout the discussion, Wasin seemed intent on convincing the audience that he could be trusted.

“If I had any idea that ES&S was doing something wrong with security, I would call the attorney general myself,” he said at one point. Tricia Gerrodet of Sierra Vista said she was glad to hear about ES&S' security features. machine. She likes that voters can see a printed ballot showing their choices.

County spokeswoman Jane Montgomery said the county received positive feedback from people who said they did not fully understand the layers of security included in the system. But he also said county officials recognize there are “still differing opinions” about using machines to tabulate votes.

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