AZ Judge Blocks Effort To Hand-Count Midterm Ballots

Officials in Cochise County, Arizona, called for a complete hand-count of all ballots submitted in this week’s election, but the effort has hit a few roadblocks along the way.

The plan to count all votes by hand stemmed from a Board of Supervisors meeting late last month when the panel’s two Republican members voted in favor of the motion.

Democratic Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who was also her party’s candidate in the state’s gubernatorial race, pushed back against the board’s decision and threatened to take the matter to court. Initially, the threat was enough for the county officials to back off from the plan, but a subsequent statement from the office of the state attorney general granted the board permission to hand-count votes in several specific races.

In an informal opinion released on Oct. 28, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, determined that the board may pursue the effort “so long as the expanded hand count audit of statewide and federal races is limited to five contested statewide and federal races appearing on the 2022 General Election ballot.”

The Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans weighed in on the matter, suing the board in an effort to stop the audit on the grounds that state law only permits a small sample of ballots to be counted by hand and only as a safeguard against possible problems with voting machines.

Pima County Superior Judge Casey F. McGinley agreed, handing down a decision this week that blocked the hand count.

While proponents of the expanded audit referenced concerns about the reliability of voting machines, the AARA argued that using hand counts “as a primary counting method can add human error and inaccurate standards into the process.”

Although the lawsuit was limited to absentee ballots submitted prior to Election Day, McGinley’s ruling expanded the prohibition to include all votes cast up to and including Tuesday.

One of the GOP supervisors who voted in favor of the hand-count reacted to the ruling but did not indicate whether the board will appeal the decision.

“I still am 100% positive that what we were doing was OK and the right thing to do,” Peggy Judd said.

Citing relevant state statutes, the judge determined that ballots must be “randomly selected for a hand count,” which could not be the case if officials chose to count all votes by hand.

McGinley ruled that the audit process “would be rendered superfluous” if it allowed the board to “initially select 100% of the precinct ballots as its starting point,” adding: “Because the statute does not permit elections officials to begin the precinct hand-count by counting all ballots cast, the Board’s requirement that election officials do so here is unlawful.”