Voters − not elected politicians − decide the outcome of elections in this country. But in Cochise County, the board of supervisors is ignoring this bedrock principle of American democracy by threatening to refuse to canvass and certify the results of the 2022 election.
The board’s refusal to do its job would not only be illegal − it could also lead to the complete disenfranchisement of the county’s voters and potentially change the outcome in key races with thin margins.
As former Arizona election officials, we know well that Arizona law is clear: once the voters have spoken, it is the duty of the board of supervisors in each county to canvass the election results within 20 days of the election (this year, Nov. 28) and to send the certified results to the secretary of state so that the statewide canvass can be completed by the fourth Monday following the election (this year, Dec. 5).
Certification is a requirement, not a choice
This duty is not optional − it is mandatory. The law gives the board of supervisors no authority or discretion whatsoever to refuse this mandate. In fact, Arizona law plainly states that the supervisors board “has a non-discretionary duty to canvass the returns as provided by the County Recorder or other officer in charge of elections and has no authority (emphasis added) to change vote totals or reject the election results.” And a refusal to comply can even expose members of the board to criminal liability.
Despite this clear obligation, at a Nov. 18 meeting of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, the board refused to canvass the results of the election and postponed further consideration to a meeting on Nov. 28, the deadline for the county to certify.
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The board’s refusal to do its duty and abide by the law was based on a completely debunked conspiracy theory that the election equipment used by the county was not properly certified. This claim is nonsense − it has already been rejected by the Arizona Supreme Court; by the state elections director; and by the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency responsible for certifying election equipment.
Fortunately, one of the two supervisors who voted to postpone certification has now indicated that she will vote to certify on Nov. 28. But if the board were to kowtow to conspiracy theories and refuse to certify, the consequences would be significant.
Inaction has consequences, including the CD 6 race
Board members who voted against certification would face the very real prospect of civil and criminal penalties. And in all likelihood, they would achieve nothing, as Arizona courts would almost certainly step in and order the board to abide by its legal obligations and certify the results.
But in the unlikely event that the courts didn’t intervene, the board’s gambit would only hurt the voters of Cochise County and the candidates that they support.
If the board has still refused to certify by the Dec. 5 deadline for state certification (which can be extended to Dec. 8, but no later), the law requires that the secretary of state still move ahead with the statewide canvass of results. In that case, the statewide canvass would not include the results from Cochise County, which is heavily Republican.
This mass disenfranchisement of Cochise County voters − at the hands of their own board of supervisors − could result in flipping the final results in a number of tight races, with Republican candidates and voters paying the price. For example, Republican Juan Ciscomani would likely lose his congressional race to Democrat Kirsten Engel.
Cochise County voters could be disenfranchised
That decision could prove decisive in the race for state superintendent, handing Democrats a win over their Republican opponents. This outcome would be even more likely if another heavily Republican county, such as Mohave County, followed the lead of Cochise County and likewise refused to certify.
It is of course unconscionable for thousands of Arizona citizens to be disenfranchised, regardless of their political affiliation. One of us is a Republican and one of us is a Democrat, but we would never want to see the outright nullification of the ballots of voters from any party, even if it helped our preferred candidates.
But it is particularly ironic that a Republican-controlled board of supervisors could end up disenfranchising their own voters and hand Democrats even more victories in the midterms. This outcome would be undemocratic and unacceptable, but Cochise County voters would know exactly whom to blame − their own elected supervisors.
Helen Purcell, a Republican, was Maricopa County recorder from 1988 to 2017. Tammy Patrick, a Democrat, served as federal compliance officer for Maricopa County from 2004 to 2014. They wrote this in support of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan organization promoting the right to free, fair and informed self-government. Share your thoughts at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Cochise County's refusal to certify election only helps Democrats