Arizona Files Suit After County Puts Election-Critic in Charge of Balloting

Arizona Files Suit After County Puts Election-Critic in Charge of Balloting

After transferring voting control to the county’s Republican recorder, who has cast concerns over past election results in a county where former President Donald J. Trump won over 60% of the vote in 2020, the Democratic attorney general of Arizona has filed suit against the county.

It’s the latest dust-up between statewide Democrats and Republicans in Cochise County, which is located in southeastern Arizona and has a history of election fraud conspiracy theories.

Lisa Marra, the county’s nonpartisan elections director, announced her resignation in January, citing threats against her after she refused to comply with rogue election directives from Republicans who control county government, including plans to count ballots by hand after last year’s midterm elections. She has just started working for the secretary of state.

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David W. Stevens, the Republican recorder, was appointed interim elections director by the county board of supervisors on February 28; the board’s two G.O.P. members voted in favor of the new authority structure, while the board’s lone Democratic member voted against it.

Arizona Files Suit After County Puts Election-Critic in Charge of Balloting
Arizona Files Suit After County Puts Election-Critic in Charge of Balloting

Kris Mayes, who was elected attorney general of Arizona in a close race last November and started an office in January, filed a lawsuit against the county on Tuesday and characterized the transfer of authority as an “unqualified handover.”

One of the defendants in the case, Mr. Stevens, is close friends with election denier and ex-state lawmaker Mark Finchem, who was recently sanctioned for filing a fraudulent lawsuit challenging Finchem’s loss in the 2022 secretary of state race.

On Wednesday, the supervisors held an emergency meeting and voted 2 to 1 to engage Timothy La Sota, a notable Arizona lawyer who has defended big election skeptics in recent litigation, as outside counsel in the matter.

His former clients include Kari Lake, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018, and Abraham Hamadeh, who ran for attorney general as a Republican but lost. When asked for comment on Wednesday, Mr. La Sota politely declined.

The two Republican supervisors in Cochise County did not immediately return messages. Ann English, chairwoman of the board and the only Democrat on the board, who opposed Mr. La Sota’s hiring, declined to comment through email. During a phone interview on Wednesday, Mr. Stevens said that it was common practise for county recorders in Arizona to have greater responsibility for monitoring elections.

County recorders in Arizona are limited in their ability to oversee voter registration drives, early voting, and the verification of signatures on affidavits and petitions for early voting by virtue of state law. Independent from the county clerk’s office and reporting directly to the board of supervisors, the county election department is responsible for managing to vote and tallying on Election Day.

Ms. Mayes detailed Cochise County’s history of conflict with state officials over election management in her 19-page lawsuit.

According to Reports from The New York Times website,

“This is not the first time that defendants have disregarded the law governing elections,” the lawsuit said. “The board and recorder repeatedly flouted the law with respect to the November 2022 general election, first by attempting to engage in an illegal hand count of ballots and then by the board violating its duty to canvass the election within the statutory time frame.”

Ms. Mayes noted that on both occasions, the county was instructed to stand down by the courts and eventually did so. The county was warned by the attorney general’s office in writing that the modifications would be illegal before the supervisors gave Mr. Stevens complete control over elections.

Arizona Files Suit After County Puts Election-Critic in Charge of Balloting
Arizona Files Suit After County Puts Election-Critic in Charge of Balloting

On the other hand, the board’s Republican members indicated they didn’t see any problems with the arrangement. Mr. Stevens, with whom he served in the State Assembly, is now a board member of the Election Fairness Institute, a nonprofit organization led by Mr. Finchem.

Mr. Stevens downplayed their partnership, saying, “Mark is a dear buddy of mine,” and adding, “I don’t view that as a problem.” Ms. English, the Democratic supervisor, was nonetheless a voice of caution and dissent. “I hope that we don’t regret it,”  she remarked of the deal.

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