BLOG / April 8, 2024

Mohave County votes against illegally hand counting the 2024 election, again

By Casey Clowes

Mohave County will not hand count ballots in its 2024 elections, its board of supervisors decided Monday, after hours of arguing over whether a hand count was legal or even possible.

The board voted 3-2 to throw out the idea, with Chairman Travis Lingenfelter and Supervisors Buster Johnson and Jean Bishop voting against.

This is the second time that the board has considered moving from computer tabulation to a hand count, after initially nixing the idea in an August vote by the same vote.

Lingenfelter said he brought the issue back before the board at the request of state Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu, an election denier who has toured the state trying to convince Arizona counties to take up hand counts in 2024.

Borrelli says that hand counting ballots is legal and can be done efficiently.

But Borrelli’s claims that hand counting is legal are in direct conflict with an October decision from the Arizona Court of Appeals that said counties don’t have the authority to order hand full hand counts.

That decision came after Cochise County ordered a hand count in the 2022 general election and Cochise County Superior Court barred the county from doing so. The county appealed that decision but the appeals court ultimately agreed with the trial court.

Mohave County Election Director Allen Tempert told the board that a hand count in the 2024 primary and general elections was simply not feasible with the county’s resources and time constraints for getting the results of the count to the state. After the county conducted a trial hand count, he estimated that a hand count of the 2024 election would cost the county around $1.1 million and would take more than 600 days to complete.

Tempert added that when counties used to count ballots by hand more than 50 years ago, they would close the polls at 7 p.m. and then the poll workers would continue on to count the ballots after already working a 13-hour day.

“Lord only knows how accurate that was,” he said, adding that ballots have only gotten longer and included more races since then.

Hand counts are notoriously inaccurate and more easy to manipulate than electronic tabulation. In Arizona, there are post-election hand-count audits to ensure the accuracy of ballot-counting machines. In 2022, those audits found no problems with how the machines tallied the ballots.

Mohave County Deputy Attorney Ryan Esplin also strongly advised against the idea of a hand count, and Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes warned the county in a letter that hand counting was illegal — and that her office would prosecute the county if it moved forward with a hand count.

“Those encouraging you to hand count elections results are encouraging you to violate the law,” Mayes wrote.

Esplin added that the Mohavy County Attorney’s Office would not represent the county or its supervisors in court if the elected leaders ignored its advice and voted to go ahead with the hand count.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle to win in court on a hand count,” he said.

In a Monday afternoon statement, Mayes said she was relieved that the supervisors chose not to go forward with a hand count.

“The Board’s decision to adhere to state-mandated procedures for ballot counting avoids potential legal complications and reinforces public trust in the integrity of our elections,” she said.

Borrelli, a member of the Senate Election Committee, was a driving force behind the state Senate’s 2021 partisan “audit” of the 2020 election in Maricopa County. He has supported many election reform bills based on unproven conspiracy theories, including one that would have legalized hand counts. Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed that bill, along with many others.

Borrelli promised the Mohave County supervisors that Scottsdale divorce attorney Bryan Blehm, who has represented Kari Lake in her failed attempts to overturn the results of Arizona’s 2022 governor’s race, would represent them free of charge if they voted to do a hand count.

The Arizona Supreme Court sanctioned Blehm earlier this year for lying about election fraud in Maricopa County in his court filings and he is currently being investigated for misconduct by the State Bar of Arizona. All of Lake’s election contests have been rejected for lacking evidence of any malfeasance that affected the election results.

Payment for Blehm’s services would come from private donations, Borrelli said, but he would not disclose the identity of the donors and said he didn’t know who controls the money that has already been donated.

A total of 25 members of the public spoke during the meeting, with 11 speaking in favor of a hand count and 13 against, with one person’s stance unclear.

The crowd was vocal, with an obviously frustrated Lingenfelter asking members of the audience to stop making loud comments and cheering or booing while people were speaking.

Charlotte Costello, of Bullhead City, asked the supervisors why no one was advocating for hand counts before 2020, when former President Donald Trump lost his reelection bid to President Joe Biden and began claiming that the election was rigged.

Hand counting is “not just impractical, it’s completely unreliable,” Costello said.

Sharon Weber, of Kingman, agreed with Costello.

“There’s not one scrap of evidence that a hand count is more accurate than a machine count,” Weber said.

On the other hand, Mohave County Republican Party District 1 Director Jeff Ryder told the board that his “single biggest concern is election integrity” and added that he believes both Biden and Hobbs were “selected and installed” instead of fairly elected.

“By voting to authorize a hand count, you can restore confidence in our voting systems,” Ryder said.

He added that he hoped Mohave would lead the way in establishing hand counting and predicted that other counties would follow.

Jennifer Esposito, a Republican candidate for District 4 County Supervisor, told the board that if she were in their place, she would be willing to go to jail for the hand-count cause.

“You cannot put a price on election confidence,” she said.

Bishop currently holds the District 4 seat.

Johnson, who voted against the hand count, asked what the supervisors would be trying to prove by hand counting the ballots, since they’d already previously agreed that there were no issues with the 2020 and 2022 elections in Mohave County.

He added that the supervisors — who hired the elections director — and the county attorney were all elected and that it didn’t make sense to ignore their advice based on the recommendation of “some attorney I’ve never heard of.”

He added that a hand count would be risking the votes of all county residents, whose votes wouldn’t count if the hand count wasn’t finished in time for the state canvas deadline.

After the supervisors voted down the hand count, advocacy organizations All Voting is Local and Progress Arizona praised the decision.

“All voters deserve to have their votes counted. All Arizonans have an interest in timely certification of the election and implementing a 100% hand count threatens the voices of Arizona voters,” said Casey Clowes, voting rights director for Progress Arizona.

The organizations added that the push to count ballots by hand in 2024 comes from “anti-democracy actors” who they say are acting in bad faith to “stoke distrust in our elections system.”

“Entertaining this proposal served those who wish to subvert our elections at the expense of Voters,” said Alex Gulotta, state director of All Voting is Local Action Arizona. “This action would hurt voters, waste taxpayers’ dollars, and goes against the already tested, verified, and audited vote-counting process. Voters won today when the County rejected this proposal in favor of the already efficient and accurate method of using vote counting machine tabulators.”