Several counties didn’t hand count ballots because political parties didn’t participate

By: - November 17, 2020 5:02 pm
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Arizona voters make their way to a polling place to cast their ballot during the midterm elections on Nov. 6, 2018. Photo by Ralph Freso | Getty Images

Several counties didn’t conduct post-election hand counts of ballots because one or more of Arizona’s political parties declined to participate.

State law calls for counties to perform a partial hand count of ballots after each election. Representatives of each recognized political party in the county select which precincts or vote centers are subjected to the hand counts, as well as which races shall be included.

County parties must inform election officials of who will participate in the hand count no later than the Tuesday before election day. And because no more than 75% of the participants can be from the same party, at least two political parties must participate. In several counties, that didn’t happen this year.

Apache, Gila, Graham, La Paz and Yuma Counties didn’t perform hand counts because one or more political parties didn’t take part. Apache County also hasn’t reported the results of a hand count to the Secretary of State’s Office.

In Apache, Graham and La Paz counties, neither the Democratic or Republican parties sought to participate in the hand counts, according to county election officials. In Gila County, only the Republican Party opted not to participate, election officials told Arizona Mirror. The Libertarian Party doesn’t have recognized representatives in those counties, officials said.

The situation in Yuma County is less clear.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, the Libertarian and Republican parties didn’t provide names of participants for the hand count by the deadline. 

Russ Jones, the chairman of the Yuma County GOP, said that’s not the case. Jones said the party’s secretary emailed the proper documentation and delivered it in person, but that the county lost it and didn’t find it before the deadline.

Tiffany Anderson, Yuma County’s elections director, said the email from the county GOP’s secretary didn’t land in her inbox until two days after the election, well after the deadline. And the email contained no body and no title.

Regardless, Anderson said Yuma County still wouldn’t have moved forward with a hand count if it had received the Republican Party’s paperwork in time because the Libertarian Party didn’t provide any names. Though Libertarians don’t qualify for ballot access in county races, Anderson said Yuma County sought the party’s participation because it had candidates on the statewide ballot, and the county attorney recommended the hand count only proceed if all three parties participated.

Anderson said Yuma County hasn’t conducted a hand count for years due to lack of participation from all recognized political parties. Apache, Graham and La Paz also didn’t conduct hand counts for the primary election because the political parties didn’t designate any participants.

Hand counts of ballots have become a contentious issue following the 2020 general election as the Arizona GOP and prominent Republican officials demand full counts of all votes cast statewide, or at least in Maricopa County.

State law mandates that counties hand count of at least 2 percent of ballots cast in person at polling places, and of 1 percent of all early ballots. But while the law doesn’t appear to allow for more than 1 percent of early ballots to be audited, there is no cap on the percentage of in-person ballots that a county can hand count.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, recommended that Maricopa County audit 5 percent of ballots because of concerns over the accuracy of the election results. Republican Stephen Richer, the recorder-elect for Maricopa County, also urged the county to expand the hand count, though he didn’t recommend a specific percentage.

The Arizona Republican Party is suing Maricopa County over its hand count. State law requires a hand count of ballots from at least 2 percent of precincts, but Maricopa County no longer uses precinct-based voting, which it replaced with vote centers where any voter can cast a ballot. The secretary of state’s election procedures manual, which statute grants the force of law, says counties can use 2 percent of voter centers if they don’t use precincts. Nonetheless, the AZGOP is arguing that Maricopa County acted illegally. 

Cochise, Greenlee and Yavapai counties also based their hand counts on vote centers instead of precincts. The Arizona Republican Party is not suing any of those counties. Yuma County also uses vote centers, but did not conduct a hand count this year.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”