Maricopa County has no plans for full hand recount of ballots




Photo by Jim Small | Arizona Mirror

Maricopa County has no plans to conduct a full audit or hand count of all ballots cast in the 2020 general election to rebut unfounded allegations of fraud and malfeasance, despite demands for such a recount by President Donald Trump and other prominent Arizona Republican officials.

For days, Republican members of Arizona’s legislature and congressional delegation have called for a full recounting by hand of all ballots in the state, as have the chair of the Arizona Republican Party, a national Republican committeeman and, as of Thursday morning, Trump himself. 

The allegations of fraud, which are mostly vague and lack any specific accusations or evidence, center primarily around Maricopa County, a traditional conservative stronghold that has shown an increasing willingness to vote Democratic in the last few elections. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden leads Trump by nearly 45,000 votes in Maricopa County, which has about 60% of the state’s population.

Fields Moseley, a spokesman for the county, said the Board of Supervisors hasn’t scheduled any meetings to discuss an audit beyond the already completed hand count that is mandated by law. 

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State law requires counties to perform a hand count of ballots cast in at least 2% of all precincts or vote centers, as well as 1% of all early ballots, which make up the vast majority of votes in Arizona. Maricopa County has already completed that audit, hand-counting nearly 3,000 in-person votes and nearly 5,200 early ballots. Representatives of the county Democratic, Libertarian and Republican parties participated in the audit.

The results of the hand count showed a 100% match with the tally by Maricopa County’s voting machines.

“There is no evidence of systemic error in the ballot counting equipment in Maricopa County,” Moseley said. 

Moseley said the supervisors could change their minds and take some kind of action. But it doesn’t seem like they have any inclination to do so right now, he said. And before any vote to order an audit or hand count, the board would take other steps, such as consulting with legal counsel at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

“They would have to consider all things, from personnel to expense to practicality,” Moseley said.

Georgia plans to conduct a statewide hand recount similar to the one Trump and other Republicans are requesting in Arizona.

Any audit would also have to be completed before the Nov. 23 deadline for the county to canvass the election. Under state law, the deadline for the secretary of state to certify the statewide canvass is a week later. The Electoral College meets on Dec. 14.

Legally required hand-count already completed

Steve Gallardo, the lone Democratic member of the Board of Supervisors, was adamant that a full audit is impractical and unnecessary.

“It’s not happening. The fact is that we had a historic election. We have a system that works. We have gone through the audit that is required by statute. We found no variance. It is time to canvass this election and move forward,” Gallardo said.

Gallardo said a full hand recount would likely extend into 2021 and probably would cost millions of dollars. Had the mandatory audit showed discrepancies between the machine count and hand count of the election, things might be different, Gallardo said. But the audit showed a perfect match. 

Gallardo alleged that the audit demands are simply attempts to delay the canvass to benefit Trump.

State law mandates that if the hand count of in-person ballots differs from the machine count by more than the designated margin — set this year at 1% for in-person votes and 2% for early ballots — the county must double the number of precincts subjected to a recount. If the count is still off by more than the designated margin, the county must conduct a final hand count of ballots from all precincts. If there is too much variance in the hand count of early ballots, officials must also expand the number of votes subjected to a manual recount.

The law requires that counties audit the ballots cast in at least 2% of precincts or voting centers, but doesn’t limit them to that number. Theoretically, a county could decide to audit 100% of precincts, said Republican election attorney Lee Miller, who served as assistant secretary of state from 2015-19. Attorney General Mark Brnovich recommended that Maricopa County increase the number to 5%, an idea the county rejected.

Miller said the requirement that counties audit 1% of early ballots — or 5,000 ballots, whichever number is smaller — is a hard and fast figure in the law. But the county could conduct its own audit outside the parameters of that statutory requirement, he said. 

Some, such as state Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and GOP Congressman Paul Gosar, have also urged Gov. Doug Ducey to call a special session of the legislature so lawmakers can order a statewide audit. 

Ducey has said Arizona “will respect the election results” but has not said anything about the numerous conspiracy theories that have arisen since the election. His staff did not respond to a comment on calls by Trump and others for an audit of Arizona’s election results.

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Some prominent Republicans have spoken out about the fraud allegations. In an interview with Fox Business on Wednesday, Brnovich rejected claims of election fraud in Arizona, saying, “If indeed there was some great conspiracy, it apparently didn’t work, since the county election official who’s a Democrat lost and other Republicans won.” Republican Stephen Richer, who won the race for Maricopa County recorder, told the Arizona Mirror that he’s seen no evidence of fraud and that there’s no need for an audit of the county’s ballots.

It’s not entirely clear whether Trump and others want a recount solely of the presidential race in Arizona, which Biden won, or of other races further down the ballot, where voters largely favored Republicans. It’s also unclear what reason there would be for an audit. Though many Republicans have questioned whether the vote in Arizona was fair, no one has presented any evidence of fraud or other malfeasance.

The allegations surrounding Maricopa County seem to stem largely from the fact that the county uses ballot tabulation machines from Dominion Voting Services, which has become the focus of groundless conspiracy theories, and that the county recorder, Adrian Fontes, is a Democrat, though Fontes himself lost his re-election. The only truly specific claim, that election officials in Maricopa County instructed Republicans to use Sharpie pens on their ballots, leading tabulation machines to reject those ballots, has been thoroughly debunked.