How a GOP county in Arizona is roiling the election results

About a dozen contractors, many wearing royal blue T-shirts and sitting at round folding tables counting, with cardboard boxes stacked behind them.
Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, in Phoenix on May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

Republican officials are causing electoral chaos in a deep-red, rural county in Arizona — the only county that hasn’t certified its midterm election results in the state.

Under Arizona state law, Monday was the legal deadline for counties to approve what is called the canvass, an official tally of votes. The GOP-controlled Cochise County Board of Supervisors missed that deadline when they voted 2-1 to delay the certification of their 2022 election results, citing baseless concerns of voting irregularities.

The Cochise County Board of Supervisors is made up of three members. The chair, Ann English, the only Democrat, voted against the delay, but two Republicans, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby, both voted to delay the certification. Judd was at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, to support then-President Trump’s claim that he won the 2020 presidential election.

Two lawsuits have been filed seeking a court order to compel the board to approve the tally of votes by Dec. 1 — one by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the other by lawyers representing a Cochise County voter and a group of retirees. The board plans to vote on the certification on Friday, Dec. 2.

Hobbs, a Democrat who narrowly won the race for governor, is required by law to complete the statewide canvass by Dec. 8, the last possible day allowed. If the heavily Republican Cochise County’s votes aren’t included in the final tally, local GOP candidates would suffer. Notably, Juan Ciscomani needs those votes to hold onto his victory for the U.S. House race there.

“The irony is that you have the Democratic Secretary of State [Hobbs] trying to push a Republican board to have Republican votes counted,” Rick Hasen, law professor at UCLA School of Law and director at the Safeguarding Democracy Project, told Yahoo News. In a discussion with Yahoo News, Hasen explains how this political mess could play out. (Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.)

Yahoo News: Why did GOP members of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors delay the certification of the election past the legal deadline?

Hasen: Thanks to Donald Trump and the false claims he made about the integrity of the 2020 election, there's a lot of distrust on the right about how our elections are run. And that has spilled over into some rural counties that have to go through the process of saying who the winners and losers are. Cochise is one of those places where the local board decided they were not comfortable with how they thought the election went, despite all the evidence that it went just fine, and they refused to certify.

[The GOP members of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors] had some concerns about the integrity of the voting machines, even though there's no evidence that there was a problem with the voting machines. And there are procedures in place to audit the results to confirm that the voting machines are doing what they're supposed to be doing.

What could end up happening with the two lawsuits?

When a local election or governmental body doesn't do what it's supposed to do, the typical thing that happens is that you go to court and you get a court order that requires them to do the right thing. And so that's what's happening now.

One of two things is likely to happen. Either the board will be ordered to do the right thing, and if not, the board members could face penalties, like contempt of court. Or it's possible that the court would order the election results certified directly, without making the body hold that kind of vote.

What could end up happening with Cochise County votes and the outcome of the election?

I have a hard time believing that things will end up with the Cochise County voters being disenfranchised and their votes not being counted as part of the election that could actually change election results. There's no good reason to disenfranchise these voters. These voters, I think, would be quite unhappy if they learned that the county board effectively disenfranchised them. So I don't think it's going to come to that.

I think it will come to either a court order making the board do it, or a court order requiring state officials to count votes that have not gone through the rubber stamp of the county board.

I think [the GOP members of the board are] trying to make a symbolic point, and point made. Yes, there are still lots of people who believe the 2020 election was stolen, despite all reliable evidence to the contrary. But by the time this becomes serious, my hope and expectation is that the courts will step in and make sure that the right thing is done.

Are there similar instances when election certification has been delayed?

This is not the first county that has tried to mess with certification or mess with the rules. Last year in Otero County, N.M., the board refused to certify results. And the state Supreme Court stepped in and made them do it under penalty of contempt, and they changed their votes. Also in Nye County, Nev., this election season, the board was going to require the hand-counting of election results, which goes against state law. And the Nevada Supreme Court had to issue two separate orders to get the board to stop doing that, and they did. [In Pennsylvania, election certifications are being held up in some counties, due to recount efforts.]

So we've seen these flare-ups, and so far, we've seen the courts do the right thing. And I hope that that trend continues.