The push to hand-count ballots in the Republican-heavy county, which borders Mexico in the state’s southeast corner and is home to the iconic Old West town of Tombstone, is prompted by unfounded claims of widespread fraud and voting machine conspiracy theories in the last presidential election pushed by former President Donald Trump and his allies. There has been no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation of voting machines in 2020 or during this year’s midterm elections.
An average-sized county in Arizona is having a larger-than-life fight over how to count ballots cast during the 2022 midterm elections.
On Tuesday, a local voter and special interest group led by Democratic Party attorneys filed a lawsuit to intervene in an ongoing legal battle in Cochise County, located in the southeast corner of the state.
The complaint stems from a resolution passed in late October by the Cochise County Board of Supervisors directing the county’s recorder or elections director to perform “a hand count audit of all County precincts for the 2022 General Election to assure agreement with the voting machine count.”
After the ballots were cast in November, the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans, Inc., and voter Stephani Stephenson filed a lawsuit against Republican Supervisors Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd, as well as Elections Director Lisa Marra, seeking to stop the hand count.
In an order, the Cochise County Superior Court ordered the recorder and Marra to “conduct any hand count of precinct ballots or hand count audit of early ballots strictly in accordance with” Arizona law. The court also enjoined the board’s October resolution that mandated a full hand count audit of all ballots cast in the election.
Marra obliged the court’s order, conducting a hand count audit of 1,802 ballots and finding nothing wrong, noting that there were “no discrepancies in any race” and “an absolute difference of zero.”
On Monday, Crosby and Judd, the two elected GOP officials who control the board of supervisors, sued Marra, who is unelected, asking for a court to force her via the extraordinary relief of mandamus to count a “higher percentage” of less than 100% of the ballots by hand, or, in the alternative, to turn all the ballots over to Cochise County Recorder David Stevens, who is also an elected Republican.
In their 17-page lawsuit, the GOP officials allege that an expanded hand count is “necessary to ensure completeness and accuracy before certifying the election” and that “such audit” must be completed before the county’s votes can be formally canvassed.
The website Tucson.com sets the scene:
Problems with the lawsuit are extant, however, as the attorney who filed it may not be getting paid for his work.
According to the Arizona Republic, Crosby and Judd declined to approve $10,000 for Valley Law Group PLLC attorney Bryan Blehm. Crosby and Judd previously said they would pay for the audit themselves but were castigated by other officials and residents at a public meeting because a proposed contract authorizing the funds for the attorney did not specify that the county would be paid back.
The paper also reported that “Blehm was involved in the Maricopa County election review conducted by a company called Cyber Ninjas.” The efforts of that “forensic audit” long-clamored for by supporters of ex-president Donald Trump ended up going the opposite way they had hoped – with their ballot review belatedly showing President Joe Biden won the Grand Canyon state by higher than even the officially-tabulated margins.
On Tuesday, Stephenson and the retired persons’ alliance moved to make themselves defendants in the lawsuit filed by Crosby and Judd against Marra, saying their “interests are not adequately represented” in the case.
From the filing, at length:
Proposed Intervenors’ interests are not adequately represented by the parties in this special action. Plaintiffs are clearly opposed to Proposed Intervenors’ interests. And Proposed Intervenors’ specific interest in protecting the Order they secured in the earlier case on this very issue is not shared by Defendant Marra, who was a defendant and the subject of the Court’s order in the prior case. Proposed Intervenors also have a unique interest in ensuring that their votes are not subject to unlawful procedures and unequal treatment based on a different counting method used in different counties, which is not shared with Defendant Marra as Cochise County Elections Director, because county defendants are entrusted with a general obligation to their respective residents, not a broader interest in protecting Arizona voters across the State.
To be clear, the proposed intervention does not necessarily mean the would-be defendants are necessarily taking issue with what Marra has done so far. In fact, the opposite is true. In a series of answers to the GOP lawsuit, the Democrats note: “Elections Director Marra has completed a limited hand count audit as required under A.R.S. § 16-602.”
The potential defendants also say they want to make sure the previous court order denying a full hand count is followed with haste.
“Proposed Intervenors have vigorously defended the Order,” the filing says. “By the end of last week, Proposed Intervenors had successfully opposed the Board and Recorder Stevens’ motions to expedite their appeal of the Order and to transfer the action to the Arizona Supreme Court. As a result, the Court’s Order is in place at least through November 28, 2022, which is the statutory county deadline for canvassing the 2022 general election results.”
Cochise County voted overwhelmingly for GOP gubernatorial hopeful and former Phoenix news anchor Kari Lake, who narrowly lost the race for Arizona governor to Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
[image via screengrab/KGUN]
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