PHOENIX (AP) - A northwestern Arizona county has rejected a proposal to hand-count ballots in the 2024 election cycle after the local elections director warned that it would cost more than $1.1 million and involve hiring hundreds of new workers.
The Mohave County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on Tuesday against adopting a hand count, with supervisors Ron Gould and Hildy Angius voting in favor. Board Chair Travis Lingenfelter said during the meeting that he couldn’t justify the steep costs of a hand count because of Mohave County’s projected budget deficit.
"You can’t talk about any other spending when you have 18 to 20 million dollars deficit," he said. "I mean, that’s irresponsible."
Prior to the vote, Mohave County Elections Director Allen Tempert told the board that hand counting ballots for upcoming elections would require hiring more than 245 new workers and cost about $1.1 million. Tempert also said workers made errors during a test hand count of 850 ballots conducted in June by his department.
"This job would just be astronomical to try to put together all these people," he said.
Deputy County Attorney Ryan Esplin also expressed concerns about the legality of a hand count.
Mohave County is among other counties across the U.S. that have explored tabulating ballots by hand. Prior to the 2022 general election, rural Cochise County in southeast Arizona pursued a hand count before it was stopped by a judge. A similar effort in Nye County, Nevada, was also subject to litigation last year.
While there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, the prospect of hand counting ballots is popular among some elected officials, activists, and voters who distrust U.S. elections and spread conspiracies about election equipment. Former President Donald Trump and his allies frequently attack voting equipment with unsupported claims. Republican lawmakers in some states have also promoted legislation mandating that ballots be counted by hand instead of by electronic tabulators.
"It’s being pushed all over the country, mostly in deeply red counties where there are county boards who are sympathetic to the lies being spread," David Becker, a former U.S. Justice Department attorney and current executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, said earlier this year.
Mohave County began exploring the notion of hand tabulations after receiving a letter in May from Republican Arizona Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli, who demanded that "no electronic voting systems" be used as the primary tabulators in federal elections, Lingenfelter said.
Borrelli sent identical letters to other Arizona counties. In June, the board directed Tempert to come up with a plan for hand-counting ballots in the 2024 election cycle, prompting Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes to publicly assert that such a move would put Mohave County in "serious legal jeopardy."
Borrelli defended the proposal during Tuesday's meeting as a "national security issue." Borrelli and a spokesperson for the Arizona Senate Republicans did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
Lingenfelter told the AP before Tuesday's vote that a hand count would be worthwhile because of widespread distrust of elections in the county, but he did not see a problem with the county's elections equipment. Registered Republican voters outnumber Democratic voters in Mohave County by nearly 4 to 1.
Experts say the proposal is a logistical quagmire and could undermine the accuracy of Mohave County’s elections. Research has shown that hand counts are less reliable and take longer than machine tabulation.