Hansi Lo Wang |
NPRThursday, December 1, 2022
A man walks out after casting his vote on Election Day 2020 in Tombstone, Ariz., in Cochise County.
AFP via Getty Images
Under a court order, officials in Republican-controlled Cochise County, Ariz., finally certified their local midterm elections results after they missed the state's legal deadline and put more than 47,000 people's votes at risk.
Ruling from the bench at a court hearing on Thursday, Pima County Superior Court Judge Casey McGinley ordered the county's board of supervisors to meet and make the results official by 5 p.m. MT Thursday.
Two members of the board — Ann English, a Democrat, and Peggy Judd, a Republican — then voted to certify, while the board's third member — Tom Crosby, a Republican — did not attend the court-ordered meeting.
The court order came three days after the board's two Republicans voted Monday not to certify the results — despite finding no legitimate problems with the counts — turning a usually uneventful step in the election process into a closely watched controversy. The move prompted multiple lawsuits, including one by the state's secretary of state, who has been waiting for the county's results to proceed with the statewide certification that is legally required to take place next week. That step is now scheduled to take place on Dec. 5, Sophia Solis, a spokesperson for the secretary, confirmed by email.
"I've had enough. I think the public's had enough," said English, the board's chair who had supported certifying the results and asked the judge for a "swift resolution" during the court hearing.
Citing state law, McGinley noted it is "clear" that the board was "duty bound" to certify the results and submit them to the secretary of state by Monday given that no results were missing from the county's totals.
McGinley said the board "exceeded its lawful authority in delaying the canvass for a reason that was not permitted by the statute."
Crosby and Judd, the Republican county supervisors, had claimed they wanted to delay the certification out of concerns about the county's election equipment, which state officials have confirmed were tested and properly certified.
During Thursday's hearing, however, an attorney representing the challengers of another lawsuit — brought against the board by the nonprofit Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and a Cochise County voter — suggested those were arguments made in bad faith by Crosby and Judd. The attorney referenced comments Judd had made to The New York Times on Monday that the claims about voting machine problems were "the only thing we have to stand on" as a cover for delaying certification in order to protest the local certification of results in Arizona's Maricopa County.
No attorney was present in the courtroom Thursday to represent the board, which had only approved a last-minute choice of a law firm less than two hours before Thursday's hearing.
Crosby attempted to ask the judge to delay proceedings until next week in order to give their newly hired attorney time to catch up on the lawsuits, but McGinley rejected the request after finding that waiting is "not in the interest of justice."
The Arizona secretary of state's office has been urging the county to complete certification by Thursday in order to avoid causing additional delays to preparations for the statewide certification of midterm election results. State officials have warned of the possible exclusion of the county's tens of thousands of votes from the official results if they are not certified by the board in time.
Before backing down and voting to certify at the board's emergency meeting, Judd called herself "a rule-of-law person" who had to ultimately support making the election results official because of the court ruling and "my own health and situations that are going on in our life."
"I am not ashamed of anything I did," Judd added.
Some former prosecutors in Arizona have been calling for criminal investigations into Judd and Crosby.
This week, former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat, joined Richard Romley, a Republican former Maricopa County attorney, in asking for probes by Arizona's attorney general and the Cochise County attorney. Goddard and Romley say in a letter that the GOP supervisors likely broke at least three of the state's criminal laws by willfully refusing to perform their legal duty to certify the election results.
Goddard said ultimately voting to certify would reduce the urgency for prosecutors to move forward with an investigation into the supervisors, but it would not take away "the blight of having committed a crime."
"It's like giving the money back after committing armed robbery. You still committed the crime even if the money gets returned to the victim. And I think that's very much the case here," Goddard said in an interview on Wednesday.
Brian McIntyre, the Cochise County attorney, told NPR on Wednesday that his office has been "evaluating options." And Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich's office has received Goddard and Romley's request, said spokesperson Brittni Thomason, who would not comment on any investigation.
On Thursday, another election certification controversy in a swing state also appeared to reach a resolution.
In Pennsylvania's Luzerne County, the local board of elections voted Wednesday to make its results official, following a deadlocked vote along party lines and an abstention that forced the board to miss Monday's legal deadline for counties without legally valid recount petitions.
It was unclear if Pennsylvania's Department of State would take the county-certified results late. But on Thursday, a department spokesperson, Ellen Lyon, confirmed to NPR in an email that Luzerne County's results will be accepted.
Asked if the department considers the board to be in violation of the state law that set Monday as Luzerne County's certification deadline, Lyon declined to comment and referred to an earlier statement that said the department was working with "a handful of counties to obtain their full certification results" in a "fluid situation."
Edited by: Benjamin Swasey
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