Differing Bills Would Increase The Number Of Ballots To Audit After An Election

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Two bills have been introduced this legislative session concerning post-election hand counts, and while both would increase the number of ballots subjected to a hand count that’s where the similarities end.

Counties are required under ARS §16-602 to perform two types of hand counts – one involving ballots cast in person at polling places and the other involving early ballots. The purpose is to check the accuracy of the tabulation equipment within a predetermined margin of error.

Initially HB2039 sponsored by Rep. Gail Griffin (R-LD14) and SB1010 introduced by Sen. J.D. Mesnard (R-LD19) would have amended ARS §16-602 by increasing the number of polling place ballots subject to hand counts from two percent to five percent of all precincts in a county, or five precincts, whichever is greater.

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On Tuesday, Mesnard amended his bill, striking the set number of precincts and replacing it with language which requires an indefinite number of precincts “to achieve a statistical significance consisting of a ninety-nine percent confidence level with a margin of error of one percent” based on the total number of ballots in a county.

SB1010, meanwhile, does not change how hand counts of early ballots would be conducted, but HB2039 does. Griffin’s bill would mandate a five percent (or 5,000 whichever is less) hand count of all early ballots, up from the current one percent.

Mesnard’s bill would, however, allow the Arizona Attorney General, the Arizona Secretary of State, or the Legislative Council to require an even higher percentage or number of precincts for a hand count in any county.

The bills also take different approaches to a murky issue which ended up in court after the Nov. 3 General Election. That issue deals with the fact ARS §16-602 currently refers only to precincts even though many counties in Arizona now utilize voting centers.

Under HB2039, precincts and voting centers would be treated the same for the purpose of a hand count. But SB1010 contains language specifying that hand counts in each county must be conducted based only on precincts.

Mesnard’s bill is slated to be discussed by the Senate Committee on Government on Thursday, while Griffin’s bill is expected to be taken up by the House Committee on Government & Elections next week.

The bills have some detractors, including the Arizona Secretary of State and the Arizona Association of Counties. Opposition has also been noted by the Arizona Coalition For Working Families and the Arizona National Organization of Women.

In Maricopa County, only about 8,000 ballots out of the more than 2.1 million cast in the 2020 General Election were subject of a hand count. Neither bill addresses a problem with ARS §16-602 which allowed one-third of Arizona’s counties to forego hand counts after the Nov. 3 General Election.

Five counties -Apache, Gila, Graham, La Paz, and Yuma- informed Secretary of State Katie Hobbs there was no hand count conducted in those counties because of a lack of participation by some or all of the local political parties.