GOP proposals seek to revamp manual count audits conducted after each election

A proposal approved by a Senate committee would change how counties conduct post-election audits of manual ballot counting.

After each election, counties must conduct a manual ballot count of 2% of its precincts and 1% of the first ballots cast to ensure they match the counts of the machines used to tabulate the ballots. vote. Counties can base their hand counts on voting centers instead of precincts if that is how they conduct their elections. The audits are conducted by members of the county’s political party organizations.

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But because the audits require at least two recognized parties to carry out the partial manual counts, they cannot take place if the political parties do not participate. It happened after the 2020 general election in Apache, Gila, Graham, La Paz and Yuma counties. During a Senate Governmental Committee hearing on Thursday, Speaker Kelly Townsend said one county had not done a manual count in years.

Townsend’s solution is Senate Bill 1573. Under this proposal, which the committee approved along partisan lines, county recorders would simply select county employees of the appropriate party if one or more political parties did not participate in the partial hand count.

The bill would make other important changes to post-election audits.

Manual counts would take on greater importance because counties would not be allowed to conduct their official election campaigns until the audits were completed. Counties should count at least 5% of precinct ballots instead of 2%. They currently have the option of having more than 2% of constituencies, but are not required to do so.

While the proposal would ensure that manual counts would be done, there are problems with the bill, Arizona Association of Counties lobbyist Jennifer Marson told the committee.

The purpose of using political party appointees is to ensure that the manual count is done by someone outside of the county election services who did the initial count, she said.

“That’s how hand counting was designed and that’s how we’d like it to continue,” Marson said. “We don’t want to participate, because I think it makes us say, ‘You did something wrong when you audited yourself.'”

Marson also took issue with the provision barring counties from seeking their elections until the audits are complete, telling the committee, “It’s a big deal.”

Townsend, a Republican from Mesa who has been a strong advocate for false but persistent claims that the 2020 presidential election was decided by fraud, said she came up with the idea for a “very good and very resourceful county recorder”. She just wants to make sure the hand count is over, she said. If other county recorders and the public don’t think it’s a good idea, Townsend has expressed a willingness to make changes.

But she does not want the current system, in which an audit can remain unfinished because parties do not participate, to continue.

“It’s not an answer. So we’ll find a solution,” Townsend said.

Post-election hand counting became a contentious issue following the 2020 election after Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward filed a failed lawsuit alleging Maricopa County improperly conducted its audit using polling centers instead of constituencies as a basis. State law specifies that counts must be precinct-based, but the election procedures manual issued by the Secretary of State, which has the force of law, authorizes the use of voting centers, where voters from anywhere in the county can vote.

The Senate government committee on Thursday passed a second bill stemming from the dispute over constituencies and voting centers. Senate Bill 1343 would require counties to separate advance, provisional, and conditional ballots by precinct, and that counties maintain separate tallies for those ballots.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator for Flagstaff Wendy Rogers, said ballots should be counted at the precinct level, claiming baselessly that “research and commentary have both shown that mischief happens between the constituency and the county”. Rogers built his political brand spreading lies about the 2020 election and sponsored numerous conspiracy-based election bills.

“If we have an accurate count of the ballots in the precinct where they are to be cast, then we have that as a benchmark. We have it as a basis for comparison. And so we have more precision, more accountability and an audit trail, so to speak,” Rogers, a Republican from Flagstaff, alluding to the discredited scrutiny Senate Speaker Karen Fann ordered of the general election of 2020 in Maricopa County.

Trump supporters have claimed that grouping ballots by precinct will detect counterfeit and fraudulent ballots, while manual count audits based on the location of the voting center allow those ballots to escape detection. . There are no evidence of fake ballots in the 2020 elections.

The counties also challenged this bill. Separating ballots by precinct would actually make it much harder to trace individual ballots back to where they were cast, Marson said.

“From an audit perspective, in our current voting model, if you were to separate the physical pieces of paper by constituency, you’ve effectively destroyed the audit trail, because right now they’re tied to the where they are voted on. And if we pull them all out and want to go back and investigate a chain of custody associated with this location, voting center, etc., we’ve now blurred that chain of custody,” she said. .

Townsend told Marson they should discuss the matter outside of the committee.

Hanging the debate on the two bills, as well as many other election-related pieces of legislation the committee heard on Thursday were the baseless and discredited conspiracy theories propagated by former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters that Joe Biden won elections in Arizona and other swing states by fraud. Members of the public cited the false allegations of fraud in their testimony on the bills, as did some committee members.

“I think we can solve this problem. I think we can right the ship of state. We will get to the truth of 2020, but we will simultaneously fix the things that need to be fixed for 2022,” Rogers said in voting to pass SB1573.

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