Finchem wants to ban voting machines and do hand counts, that is ‘unrealistic’

By: - October 12, 2022 11:57 am
Mark Finchem

Mark Finchem on Aug. 2, 2022, at an election night party for Kari Lake. If elected secretary of state, Finchem could force counties to count ballots by hand. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

There were 3,420,565 ballots cast in 2020 in Arizona — and if Mark Finchem had his way, every single one of them could be counted by hand. 

As secretary of state, he would have unilateral authority to make that happen.

While the secretary of state oversees Arizona’s elections, many of the role’s duties are ministerial or dependent on other branches of government. The actual elections are conducted and managed by the state’s 15 counties, and its officials there who are responsible for tallying votes. And election laws are written by the state legislature and must be approved by the governor.

But state law gives sweeping powers to the secretary of state to regulate election equipment. The secretary has the ability to say what standards any equipment must meet, to certify equipment that meets those standards and to decertify any equipment that doesn’t.

Finchem, a state legislator from Oro Valley who is the GOP nominee for secretary of state, has long made it clear that he does not support the use of machine tabulation to count votes. Earlier this year, he and Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake even filed a federal lawsuit to try to stop their use in the state.

As secretary of state, he could force counties to count ballots by hand if he decertified the election machines — setting up a nightmare scenario for elections officials.

“Hand counting all the ballots in Arizona is impossible,” said Jennnifer Marson, the executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties. “It’s impossible, it’s impossible.” 

In Maricopa County alone in 2020, there were 74 selections for voters to choose from on the smallest version of the ballot sent out, she said. When multiplied by the number of ballots cast, that equates to over 154 million selections that would need to be counted and tallied by hand. Statewide, the number is estimated to be around 201 million, Marson said. 

“If you’re going to do a hand count, you’re probably going to have to hand count twice,” Marson said, adding that the logistics of a hand count on such a massive scale are unknown. “Literally, how will they do it? Will they tick marks on paper? Will they use Excel? Because that is a machine.” 

Then there are questions of how much it would cost to hire enough workers to manually tally every vote in every race on millions of ballots. 

And aside from being less accurate than electronic tabulation machines, hand-counting is slow — and it could jeopardize the ability of counties to canvass their elections in the 20 days that state law allows. State law requires a canvass of legislative and statewide elections within 27 days, a task that could be difficult if not impossible.

“The possibility for error is massive. It’s massive when you have humans doing it,” Marson said. “They lose their place, they have to start over.”  

Finchem has already hinted at his intentions to change the standards for election machines to something that would be impossible to meet.

“I do not believe that we should be using equipment that we cannot inspect the software,” Finchem said in a recent interview with CBS News. In the lawsuit with Lake, trying to inspect the software on the machines currently used was a key part of their litigation. 

Finchem said he would seek to prohibit the use of voting equipment with software that is not “open source.”

But there is no such election equipment. All election equipment used in Arizona must first be certified by the federal Election Assistance Commission. And because the equipment is considered “critical infrastructure,” none of it uses open-source software.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which certifies some election equipment in the United States, has not had any open source software submitted for certification through their Testing and Certification program, according to EAC spokesperson Kristen Muthig. If any open source software was submitted, it would be evaluated in the same way any other system is evaluated, Muthig said. 

Arizona law establishes a voting equipment certification committee, but it doesn’t have any real power. All three of its members are appointed by the secretary of state, and it is tasked with making recommendations about electronic voting and tabulation machines to the secretary of state.

And while the secretary of state is required to consult with this committee for developing standards to decertify machines, determining what those standards will be is solely the secretary of state’s duty. If he or she wants to ignore the committee’s recommendations, nothing in law stops that from happening.

Based on those standards, the secretary of state then can revoke the certification of any device already in use that doesn’t comply — and ban the use of them for up to five years.

Since the 2020 election, Finchem has opposed electronic ballot tabulators and has sought to prohibit their use. In the interview with CBS, Finchem cited long debunked claims that Dominion Voting Systems machines in Colorado had high error rates, among other claims. 

He also reiterated that he would “follow the law.” 

Finchem did not respond to a request for comment. 

His stance is part of a growing movement, driven by election fraud conspiracy theorists across the country, that aims to push for the total ban of electronic voting equipment and move to hand counts of ballots. Doing so just isn’t possible in many cases, experts say.

“It is extremely unrealistic in all but the tiniest of jurisdictions,” Gowri Ramachandran, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy program, told the Arizona Mirror. Ramachandran said that hand counts generally are part of the recount process and usually include counting one contest, not every race on every ballot. 

Many of the groups pushing for hand counts also have been pushing for a “one day, one vote” style of voting as well that would do away with early voting. A bill that was killed by Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers and co-sponsored by Finchem would have done just that. It also would have required all ballots in Arizona to be counted by hand within 24 hours, among many other provisions. 

In that scenario, Marson said that the state would likely need 8,000 more poll workers and another 8,000 to be hand counters. 

Additionally, hand counting is rife for error and moving to machine tabulation was because of this issue, Marson said. 

In most cases, hand counts are performed as a way to double-check the performance of a machine tabulator or when a race is extremely close. But those instances are still generally for one race. 

“It is a way of making sure there are no programming errors,” Ramachandran said. “Doing those routine audits to catch any problems is one of the best practices.”

In Arizona, state law requires audits of the machines’ performance be done both before and after an election. And a sample of ballots cast in the election is audited by hand to ensure the electronic count is accurate. 

Maricopa County had nine tabulators for the August primary election and will have 16 for next month’s general election, according to Maricopa County Elections Department spokeswoman Megan Gilbertson. 

One county is already considering hand counting all the ballots it will see cast in its election this year, Cochise County. The effort is being pushed in part by county supervisor Peggy Judd who attended the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and posted QAnon conspiracy theories on her now defunct Facebook page.  

While the Cochise County Board of Supervisors approved the push in a vote Tuesday, attorneys for the board disapproved and said no to the effort.  

But this hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists — even those in power — from pushing to “ban the machines.” 

On Oct. 1, Arizona Corporation Commissioner Jim O’Connor hosted some of the loudest voices in the ban the machines movement at a movie theater in Tempe. 

“These machines are from the devil,” O’Connor, whose office has no oversight of elections, said to the small crowd. 

Earlier in the week, O’Connor had used his position as an Arizona Corporation Commissioner to mail out flyers for the event to county recorders across the state.

The event was a who’s who of election deniers who have taken aim at election equipment in Arizona and across the country, spreading falsehoods about their performance to explain how Trump lost in 2020. Chief among them was former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who is currently facing 10 felony charges after she allowed conspiracy theorists to copy and access sensitive voting software.  

Peters lamented that the judge in her case was using his “political power” to keep her from anything dealing with elections. 

“My only crime is for backing up the election files,” Peters claimed, communicating to the crowd via Zoom. Peters also celebrated that, after the breach was discovered, the voting equipment was decertified by the state — something she is on the hook to pay for. 

“I was thinking, great, take them out, we will just hand-count everything,” Peters said. “There is no reason we can’t hand count these ballots.”

O’Connor, who in September said he wanted to bring in 13 experts to testify to the Corporation Commission about voting machines, blamed the courts for not wanting to take on the “political question” and compared the situation to Nazi Germany. 

“It appears that all the courts in our states at the federal and state level don’t want to handle the political question,” O’Connor said after a speaker said their case regarding election fraud was dismissed by the courts. “They’re all sitting scared, thinking, ‘What are the people gonna do?’ So, they’re creating an Adolf Hitler-like (atmosphere), controlling speech”

The event also included a litany of other speakers, such as election fraud fabulist Jovan Hutton Pulitzer.

And State Sen. Sonny Borelli, R-Lake Havasu, told the crowd that the movement he, Finchem and state Rep. Leo Biasucci led began when Democrat Adrian Fontes was elected Maricopa County Recorder in 2016. Fontes is Finchem’s opponent for secretary of state. 

Borrelli effusively praised the idea of requiring Arizona ballots to be counted by hand, adding that he was not fond of mail-in voting either. 

The event ended in a prayer, during which O’Connor asked for “courage for the supervisors and county elected officials.” 

“These people are frightened for their lives and for their families, because you know who is running their show — the devil,” O’Connor said. 

***CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission certifies some, not all, of the election equipment in the country. 

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.

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