WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, Nov. 7, an Arizona judge ruled that Cochise County, Arizona may not proceed with its plan to perform a full hand count audit of all early ballots (meaning a hand count of all ballots cast before Election Day conducted after a machine has electronically tabulated them). This decision comes after the Arizona Alliance of Retired Americans and a Democratic voter filed a lawsuit against multiple Cochise County officials and election administrators challenging the county’s plan for a hand count audit of all early ballots (which, according to the lawsuit, “make up the vast majority of all ballots cast”), alleging that the audit violates Arizona law and would “sow confusion among voters and undermine the public’s confidence in Arizona’s elections.” Notably, the county decided to move forward with an expanded hand count audit of all early ballots on Oct. 28 despite receiving numerous warnings from the Cochise County attorney and Arizona secretary of state advising the county against this broader plan.
In today’s order, the judge concluded that Cochise County’s plan to “conduct a hand count or manual audit starting with and consisting solely of 100% of the ballots cast in an election, rather than by using the increments of ballots” is not permitted by Arizona law or the state’s election rules. The court further explained that, even “if the Board’s Action is interpreted to require all ballots to be counted pursuant to their proper statute, the requirement that the officer in charge of the election conduct a full hand count of all ballots cast is otherwise unlawful.” The court concluded its order by stating that, because “the Board of Supervisors had no authority to order a full hand count audit of the electronic tabulation of votes cast in the general election, Plaintiffs are very likely to succeed on the merits of their special action. Additionally, because the proposed audit does not comply with clearly stated Arizona law, public policy and the public interest are served by enjoining the unlawful action.” Today’s decision means that Cochise County will not be able to perform a hand count audit of all early ballots for this election cycle.
Cochise County’s failed plan to conduct a broad hand count audit of early ballots is part of a larger trend of Republican efforts to foment distrust and promulgate misinformation and disinformation about election procedures that are credibly proven to be safe and secure. Although hand counts are an important tool for recounts or confirming tabulator machine accuracy, using them as a counting method for all ballots is both time consuming and subject to human error. Today, an Arizona judge put an end to part of this Republican-sponsored scheme in Cochise County.