A member of the Senate’s election “audit” team demonstrates how auditors will manually tally each of the 2.1 million ballots cast in the presidential election in Maricopa County in 2020. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror
Republicans, still stung by Arizonans rejection of the party’s top nominees in the 2022 midterm elections, are calling for a hand-count audit of the election — but only in Maricopa County.
Legislation approved by a Senate panel on Feb. 13 orders election officials in a “county with 2 million persons or more” to select four precincts in which to conduct a 100-ballot recount of every race on the November 2022 ballot. The only county that describes Maricopa County, which has been a focal point of baseless accusations of election fraud since the 2020 election.
The state’s largest county has in recent years gone from a reliable GOP stronghold to backing Democratic candidates, fracturing the Republican Party’s longtime hold on the state. In the last several elections, Democratic statewide candidates like President Joe Biden, Gov. Katie Hobbs and U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly have won in Maricopa County, propelling them to victory over their GOP opponents.
Those outcomes have spurred numerous conspiracy theories about why Republicans are losing races in Maricopa County, and drove GOP state senators in 2021 to conduct a partisan election review of Donald Trump’s 2020 loss in search of supposed fraud. The so-called “audit” found no evidence of fraud, but did nothing to snuff out the conspiracies.
Issues with on-demand printers during the 2022 election that led to hundreds of rejected ballots only worsened suspicion and conspiracy theories from election deniers.
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The proposal, Senate Bill 1471, requires a hand-count of all 2022 ballots in each precinct to be compared to a tally of the same ballots by a tabulation machine. If a discrepancy of more than 0.10% is found between the two counts, the ballots will be recounted by a different group of volunteers and a different tabulation machine.
Election skeptics have long looked to hand-counts as the solution to an allegedly fraudulent system. Tabulation machines are at the center of those allegations, with election deniers accusing them of incorrectly counting ballots or changing the votes altogether. The claims dismiss, or outright ignore, the numerous state and federal standards tabulation machines must meet, the extensive logic and accuracy tests that are performed, and the limited hand-counts used before and after elections to verify their accuracy.
The post-election limited hand-count audits conducted last year found no significant errors in any Arizona county.
Critics of the GOP push to hand-count every race on every ballot have cited research that human error contributes to margins large enough to sway close elections and the difficulty of counting so many ballots quickly. During the 2022 midterm elections, more than 1.5 million ballots were cast in Maricopa County alone, and each of those had 80 contests on them.
Fountain Hills Republican Sen. John Kavanagh, who sponsored the legislation, told his colleagues on the Senate Elections Committee that double-checking a small portion of ballots could help dispel some of the qualms from hand-count critics. The results, he said, would finally show whether or not hand-counts can be feasibly performed, and the data could be extrapolated to determine how many volunteers would be needed to recount the entire 2022 midterm election over 16-hour days.
“It basically…blows away some of the controversy over what’s accurate, what’s not accurate and how long it would take to do a (full) hand-count by using a controlled experiment,” Kavanagh said, during a Monday night hearing of the bill.
The measure moved forward along party lines, with all three Democrats on the panel in opposition. If that lack of support continues, it’s unlikely that Gov. Katie Hobbs, who vowed to sign only bills that earn bipartisan support, will approve it.
Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said that, while he would welcome an example of the flawed nature of hand-counts, he doubted even that would convince election deniers.
“This is not going to put an end to conspiracy theories,” he said. “We’re just going to see another bill next year demanding a thousand ballots, or people are going to share all kinds of anecdotes about how they talked to somebody who was there and saw things that they thought shouldn’t be happening.”
That sentiment was quickly proved by Sen. Sonny Borrelli, who said the bill’s parameters don’t go far enough. The Lake Havasu Republican claimed that tabulation machines are infected by an algorithm that allows them to change the votes at a certain threshold — though he couldn’t say at what threshold — and called them a “scam”. His future support, he said, would be contingent on increasing the number of ballots being audited.
“There’s an algorithm that’s embedded in these machines — possibly, possibly not — but there’s no way for us to verify that,” Borrelli said. “One-hundred-percent accuracy is what the citizens demand. There’s an algorithm in there that’s programmed to change things.”
The voters who sent Borrelli, and the other 89 legislators, to the Capitol had their votes counted by electronic tabulators.
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