Arizona county again rejects a bid to hand-count all 2024 ballots

KINGMAN, Ariz. (AP) — For the second time in nearly four months, officials in a northwestern Arizona county narrowly rejected a proposal to hand count all ballots in the 2024 election cycle rather than using electronic tabulating equipment.

The 3-2 vote on Monday by the Mohave County Board of Supervisors against the proposal came a day after Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes told officials that approving the proposal would mean directing election workers to violate the law. She warned that her office would file a lawsuit if the measure was approved.

A hand count was also rejected in early August after Board Chairman Travis Lingenfelter said he couldn’t justify the cost given that Mohave County’s budget deficit already stands at about $16 million. County election officials had said it would take 245 new workers and $1.1 million to count all ballots by hand.

Lingenfelter, who voted against the measure both times, said he put the proposal on Monday’s agenda because he told state Sen. Sonny Borrelli, a Republican from the Mohave County community of Lake Havasu City, that he would do so if enough volunteers lined up to do the counting and if someone agreed to cover litigation costs.

The Mohave County Republican Party said it had more than 300 volunteers willing to hand count ballots free of charge and Scottsdale attorney Bryan Blehm pledged to represent Mohave County in any related lawsuit.

“Any litigation will be 100% private pay,” said Blehm, who represented Republican Kari Lake’s challenge of her 2022 loss to Gov. Katie Hobbs.

Borrelli, who was at the supervisors' meeting and spoke in favor of the hand count, said private individuals would pay for any legal costs, but he said he didn't know the names of prospective donors.

Ryan Esplin, a deputy county attorney who advises the board supervisors, told them no law specifically authorizes the proposed hand count. He urged sticking with the machine count "because we know those are legal.”

“I’m more persuaded by the arguments that the attorney general is making than I am with some of the counter arguments that I’ve seen,” Esplin said. "And I’m of the opinion that you have an uphill battle to win in court on the hand-count argument.”

Other counties across the U.S. that have explored tabulating ballots by hand as well. 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.