WASHINGTON, D.C. — Calls for hand counting ballots have continued in recent weeks in states throughout the country, with conservative activists and elected officials pushing for the complex practice despite its clear problems.
While hand counting can be useful in precise, limited circumstances, the counting method on a large scale is extremely expensive, taxing on already strained election workers, inefficient and most importantly, inaccurate when compared to electronic tabulation. But recent calls for hand counting only show the efforts to implement this system haven’t gone away, spurred by dangerous misinformation and conspiracy theories.
Perhaps no state in the country has seen more action around hand counting than Arizona. Last month, Arizona Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli (R) spoke at a La Paz County Board of Supervisors meeting, urging the board to authorize “100 percent” hand counts in their elections. Borrelli has also made stops in Pinal, Mohave and Cochise counties on a “tour” to urge GOP-controlled counties to adopt hand counting.
Cochise County has long been a hotspot for hand counting controversy, especially during the 2022 midterm elections. Last October, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors voted to adopt a proposal to conduct hand count audits for the 2022 elections, despite warnings from the county lawyer who noted the proposal was illegal. The proposal gave county recorders or other officials the power to count all of the county’s early ballots, for all races, by hand. The plan was ultimately stymied by a lawsuit that resulted in a court declaring the proposal illegal.
The two Republicans on the three-member board later filed a special action complaint arguing the court declaration did not prevent a hand count of “fewer than 100% of election day ballots,” but they withdrew the petition two days later, ending the county’s quest to hand count last cycle.
But Cochise County wasn’t the only county attempting to hand count in 2022. Nye County, Nevada fell victim to conspiracy theories last year as well, when the county clerk’s office announced a plan to hand count the results of last year’s midterm elections. A chaotic set of events followed, including multiple lawsuits challenging the county’s plans.
One of the lawsuits resulted in a court order compelling Nye County to abandon its plan to live-stream the vote counting process, and Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske (R) twice rejected the county’s plan to hand count. However, the county ignored Cegavske and started the process anyway. Ultimately, the Nevada Supreme Court allowed the hand count to proceed.
Recent calls for hand counting have become part of GOP candidate platforms, too. Just a few weeks ago, a forum was held for candidates running for the Louisiana secretary of state, in which multiple Republican candidates questioned the state’s voting machines, with one calling for a full paper ballot system and hand counting.
South Dakota has seen both activists and elected officials call for hand counting. A Minnehaha County Commission meeting late last month gave way for more than a dozen people to call for hand counting ballots. Some of those who spoke were part of a self-described “election integrity” group that convinced Tripp County to hand count ballots in 2022.
The same week, Minnehaha County Auditor Lean Anderson (R) suggested that the state’s most populous county get rid of its voting machines and instead count ballots by hand.
Some progress has been made recently to curb out of control hand counting, however. Last year, after canceling its contract with Dominion Voting Systems, the Republican-controlled Shasta County, California Board of Supervisors voted along party lines to count all county ballots by hand in the next election. The board approved this counting method despite warnings and concerns from California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) and the county recorder.
In response, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 969, which would seek to prevent other counties from carrying out such an action, in a bid to ensure stability in California Elections ahead of 2024. The bill now awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) signature.