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Rural Arizona county delays certifying midterm results as election disputes persist


CNN

By Fredreka Schouten and Maeve Reston, CNN

Officials in a rural Arizona county Monday delayed the certification of November’s midterm elections, missing the legal deadline and leading the Arizona secretary of state’s office to sue over the county’s failure to sign off on the results.

By a 2-1 vote Monday morning, the Republican majority on the Cochise County Board of Supervisors pushed back certification until Friday, citing concerns about voting machines. Because Monday was the deadline for all 15 Arizona counties to certify their results, Cochise’s action could put at risk the votes of some 47,000 county residents and could inject chaos into the election if those votes go uncounted.

In the lawsuit filed by the office of Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs — a Democrat who will be the state’s next governor — officials said failing to certify the election results violates state law and could “potentially disenfranchise” the county’s voters.

CNN has reached out to the supervisors for comment.

The standoff between officials in Cochise County and the Arizona secretary of state’s office illustrates how election misinformation is continuing to stoke controversy about the 2022 results in some corners of the country even though many of the candidates who echoed former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election were defeated in November.

A crowd of grassroots activists turned up at a special meeting of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to loudly protest that county’s election administration procedures during a public comment portion of the meeting after problems with printers at voting locations on Election Day led to long lines at about a third of the county’s voting locations. In a new letter to the state attorney general’s office — which had demanded an explanation of the problems — the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said that “no voter was disenfranchised because of the difficulty the county experienced with some of its printers.”

Disputes over the results have erupted elsewhere.

In Pennsylvania, where counties also faced a Monday deadline to certify their general election balloting, local officials have faced an onslaught of petitions demanding recounts. And officials in Luzerne County, in northeastern Pennsylvania, deadlocked Monday on whether to certify the results, according to multiple media reports. Election officials there did not respond to inquiries from CNN on Monday afternoon.

In a statement to CNN, officials with the Pennsylvania Department of State said they have reached out to Luzerne officials “to inquire about the board’s decision and their intended next steps.”

On Election Day, a paper shortage in Luzerne County prompted a court-ordered extension of in-person voting.

Arizona, another key battleground state, has long been a cauldron of election conspiracies. GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and GOP secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem, both of whom pushed Trump’s lies about 2020, have refused to concede their races, as they continue to sow doubts about this year’s election results.

Lake’s campaign filed a lawsuit last week demanding more information from Maricopa County’s elections department about the number of voters who checked in to polling places compared to the ballots cast. And Arizona’s GOP attorney general candidate Abe Hamadeh — who, like Lake and Finchem, was backed by Trump — filed a lawsuit in the state superior court in Maricopa County last week challenging the election results based on what the suit describes as errors in the management of the election.

Hamadeh is trailing his opponent Democrat Kris Mayes by 510 votes as their race heads toward a recount. But the lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the Arizona secretary of state from certifying Mayes as the winner and asks the court to declare Hamadeh as the winner. A recount cannot begin until the state’s votes are certified.

Alex Gulotta, Arizona state director of All Voting is Local, said the drama over certification of the votes and the refusal by losing candidates to back down is part of an “infrastructure of election denial” that has been building since the 2020 election in Arizona.

“Those folks are going to continue to try and find fertile ground for their efforts to undermine our elections. They are not going to give up,” Gulotta said. “We had a whole slate of election deniers, many of whom were not elected.”

But their refusal to concede “was inevitable in Arizona, at least in this cycle, given the candidates. These aren’t good losers,” he added. “They said from the beginning that they would be bad losers.”

In Cochise County, the Republican officials on the county Board of Supervisors advocated for the delay, citing concerns about voting machines.

Ann English, the Democratic chairwoman, argued that there was “no reason for us to delay.”

But Republican commissioners Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd, who have cited claims that the machines were not properly certified, voted to delay signing off on the results. Monday’s action marked the second time the Republican-controlled board has delayed certification. And it marked the latest effort by Republicans on the board to register their disapproval of vote-tallying machines. Earlier this month, they attempted to mount an expansive hand count audit of the midterm results, pitting them against Cochise’s election director and the county attorney, who warned that the gambit might break the law.

State election officials said the concerns cited by the Republican majority about the vote-tallying machines are rooted in debunked conspiracy theories.

The state’s election director Kori Lorick has confirmed in writing that the voting machines had been tested and certified — a point Hobbs reiterated in Monday’s lawsuit. She is asking the court to force the board to certify the results by Thursday.

An initial deadline of December 5 had been set for statewide certification. In the lawsuit, Hobbs’ lawyers said state law does allow for a slight delay if her office has not received a county’s results, but not past December 8 — or 30 days after the election.

“Absent this Court’s intervention, the Secretary will have no choice but to complete statewide canvass by December 8 without Cochise County’s votes included,” her lawyers added.

If votes from this Republican stronghold somehow went uncounted, it could flip two races to Democrats: the contest for state superintendent and a congressional race in which Republican Juan Ciscomani already has been projected as the winner by CNN and other outlets.

In a recent opinion piece published in The Arizona Republic, two former election officials in Maricopa County — said the courts were likely to step in and force Cochise to certify the results.

But Republican Helen Purcell, a former Maricopa County recorder, and Tammy Patrick, a Democrat and the county’s former federal compliance officer, warned that “a Republican-controlled board of supervisors could end up disenfranchising their own voters and hand Democrats even more victories in the midterms.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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