Cochise County passes new jail tax, 2 of 3 officials canvass the vote

After a close election to fund a new jail with a new excise tax, two of three Cochise County supervisors voted Tuesday to acknowledge the receipt of the canvass of results for the May 16 special election. The third board member abstained from voting.

Elections results show that 51.47% of voters supported an excise tax for 25 years to help pay for and operate a new jail. Voter turnout was 32% of county voters with 25,048 voters casting ballots out of the total 76,219 registered voters.

On May 25, the county Board of Supervisors acting as the Jail District Board of Directors, voted two to one to canvass the results. Supervisors Peggy Judd and Ann English voted to canvass the results, while Supervisor Tom Crosby voted against the action. On Tuesday, when the Board met to accept the results, Crosby abstained from voting.

Crosby was critical of having a mail-in ballot election because of how the county verifies voters' identification without the use of an ID.

During the May 25 meeting, Recorder David Stevens said for mail-in ballot elections signatures are verified using the bar code on the address of the ballot that brings up the voter's record and recent signature. If the signature on the envelope is different than the most recent signature in the voter's record, then previous signatures in the record are used to verify the signature.

Stevens said 21 ballots were rejected due to lack of signatures while 420 ballots were rejected because they were received after the election.

Cochise County Board of Supervisors Ann English (left) and Tom Crosby discuss items on the public meeting agenda on Feb. 14, 2023, in Bisbee, Ariz. The Board of Supervisors convened to analyze and discuss the proposed transfer of election functions and duties to the county recorder.

Judd, who replaced English as the board chair said the election was conducted “as good as can be.”

She also noted how this need for a new jail has been known for many years.

“This was a timely matter, but also we have been working on it for seven years. We don’t have another way to get the money,” Judd said about the need for a tax.

“We need this, we needed a jail,” she said.

The state of the jail

The Bisbee jail is one of three in the county, while two temporary holding facilities are located in the surrounding areas: one in Sierra Vista — the county's most populated city — and one in Willcox.

According to the county, the current jail in Bisbee is in dire need of replacement, as the repairs needed to bring the jail up-to-date are costly.

During public forums throughout the county preceding the election, county staff and law enforcement officers spoke about the needs of the jail. Some issues included metal tubes running through hallways, major leaks and electrical failures, inmates sleeping on floors, officers’ desks in hallways, and more.

At times, the jail has also held double the number of inmates it was designed to hold. In addition to constructing a new facility, the county has reiterated that one of its top priorities for the new jail will be increased medical and mental health services.

Following the passage of the excise tax, the Board of Supervisors, as the Jail District Board, will take the next steps which include conducting viability studies and requests for proposals, according to the county.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Cochise County passes new jail tax, 2 of 3 officials canvass the vote