BISBEE — With the refusal of two members of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors to approve the 2022 General Election results within the state deadline, the secretary of state has held to her word and has filed a complaint against them.
Monday morning, Supervisors Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby did not approve the results in a special meeting and failed to meet Arizona statutes that required the board to act by the Nov. 28 deadline.
Now, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the newly elected governor of Arizona, seeks a court action to require them to approve the canvass or show cause why the relief sought in the complaint for special action should not be granted. She has asked for a “speedy return date” for a hearing.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Casey McGinley scheduled a hearing for Thursday at 1 p.m. on the latest legal fight
“On information and belief, the board has no intention of canvassing the election before the Dec. 8 deadline,” states the action by attorneys Andrew Gaona with Coppersmith Brockleman and Sambo Dul with States United Democracy Center.
“Absent the court’s intervention the Secretary will have no choice but to complete the canvass without Cochise County’s votes included. The board’s inaction not only violates the plain language of the statute but also undermines a basic tenet of free and fair elections in this state which ensures every Arizonan’s voice is heard.”
Hobbs asks for a declaratory judgement and injunction declaring the actions of the supervisors “to be unlawful and compels them to meet and canvass” the election by Thursday, Dec. 1, to allow her to meet the Dec. 8 deadline for the statewide canvass. Further, she states the supervisors have “failed to perform their duty” as required by law. The supervisors have no authority to deny the canvass or change results.
Complying with these statutory deadlines is of particular importance this year as three statewide races — attorney general, superintendent of public instruction and Legislative District 13 for the House of Representatives — could require automatic recounts. The secretary cannot certify the facts necessary to obtain a court order to begin the recounts until the statewide results are completed. If the votes from Cochise County are not included in the statewide canvass, those seats and others could be impacted.
Judd and Crosby have set a meeting date of Friday, Dec. 2, at 10 a.m. to again discuss the certifications, even though the delay could disenfranchise all 47,284 county voters, many of whom have voiced concerns their votes will not count.
Warned of the potential outcomes by state Elections Director Kori Lorick, Judd and Crosby appear to want a showdown with the secretary of state on Friday before they consider approving the results. Lorick provided a letter from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, proving it had certified the lab that tested the machines, which also were approved by the state Equipment Certification Advisory Committee.
As was pointed put by county Elections Director Lisa Marra, the required audit of a selected number of random ballots and races was completed with no errors. The machine and hand count reached the same results.
Lorick stated, “If the Board still has not certified by the state canvass deadline, the state canvass will proceed regardless, as is required under Arizona’s law, and your refusal to certify will only serve to disenfranchise Cochise County voters.”
The question of who is going to pay for the attorney fees resulting from three lawsuits is only partially decided.
During the Tuesday regular meeting of the board, County Administrator Richard Karwaczka said a private donor had paid the $10,000 retaining fee directly to attorney Bryan Blehm of the Valley Law Firm.
The county has still not received a bill from Blehm, so there is no record of the hours he and his staff spent on the first lawsuit filed by the Arizona Alliance of Retired Americans Inc. and county resident Stephani Stephenson, who opposed the supervisors’ proposed hand count of 100% of the ballots cast in the 2022 election.
Judd, Crosby and County Recorder David Stevens wanted the hand count to be done during the time the county election staff was busy with early and mail-in ballots.
Though Supervisor Ann English and Marra were opposed to the hand count, they were named in the first suit.
The plaintiffs argued the supervisors did not have the authority to require a hand count unless there was a problem with a tabulation machine. There were no problems with any of the county’s election equipment. McGinley agreed the elected officials had no authority to perform a hand count and ordered it be halted.
Blehm decided to take the matter up with the Arizona Court of Appeals, but then asked to have the case transferred to the Arizona Supreme Court for expediency. Both courts denied Blehm’s request. The appeals court told him all necessary document concerning the case needed to be submitted by Dec. 12.
At the same time, Blehm sued Marra, seeking to force her to hold the hand count. The suit was not discussed in public between all three members of the board and that has resulted in an open meeting law complaint being filed with the Arizona Attorney General’s Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team by a county voter.
There has been no bill issued to the county for that suit, which Blehm quickly dropped.
During an emergency session Tuesday afternoon, the supervisors discussed and approved hiring Blehm for the latest two suits.
Karwaczka said the county would have to pay for the attorney services out of General Fund money. The county has no avenue to accept donations to pay for counsel.
English suggested Blehm could work pro bono so the county did not incur costs.
McIntyre said Valley Law Group wants assurance it will be paid for services, so the board would have to give Karwaczka permission to hire the firm.
At the Dec. 2 meeting, Judd and Crosby plan to have the election deniers from Maricopa County, Daniel Wood, Brian Steiner and Paul Rice, who addressed the board last week, along with others, return to offer their views on the certification of county machines.
According to Judd, they are looking for confirmation of the signatures on the certificates which the Maricopa County deniers claim were not signed by the proper people. Lorick and Hobbs failed to address the question in their response, Judd said.
English has consistently been in favor of approving the canvass.
Citizens voice concerns
In the Tuesday morning meeting of the supervisors, a number of citizens voiced their opposition to the actions of Judd and Crosby, while complimenting the common sense of English and the dedication of Marra.
Sierra Vista resident Jeff Sturges said Judd and Crosby should resign since neither is able to handle their duties.
“You have made us a national joke,” he said. “I ask you to resign. I want to thank Ann for being the adult in the room.”
The story of the refusal to approve the hand count has made it to print and broadcast in the U.S. and even a London-based paper had a story about it. Some of the speakers said this opinion of just two people have colored the county in an unbecoming light. Others believed there are other motives at work.
Elizabeth Lopez from Sierra Vista agreed strongly with an editorial that ran on the front page of the Herald/Review and commended the paper’s staff for its commitment to democracy.
“Your assault on democracy will not stand,” she said.
Bisbee resident Jenny Druckman said to Judd and Crosby, “Perhaps you should step aside. The vote to certify the election is mandatory. Peggy Judd has changed her mind every day over the past few weeks. You’re holding our votes hostage. The facts are clear, there are no problems with our machines.”