Where Things Stand: Arizona Republicans Realize That Hand Counting Ballots Is Actually Really Annoying

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Politics, UK, Election, Close up of hands during the count in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England. (Photo by: Eye Ubiquitous/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
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An Arizona county run by Republicans recently voted against moving forward with plans to try to get rid of electronic ballot-counting machines and to conduct the tabulation of the 2024 election by hand. While initially propelled in part by conspiracy theories about voting machines, the all-Republican county board of supervisors determined that ultimately moving to a hand count would be too expensive and the methodology too unreliable.

Now Arizona’s Democratic secretary of state gets to say I told you so.

After Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed a bill authorizing hand counts that was passed by Arizona’s Republican-controlled state legislature earlier this year, Mohave County’s Board of Supervisors in June voted to direct county election officials to put together a plan for the county to conduct its election by hand in 2024. Arizona’s Democratic Secretary of State Adrian Fontes warned county officials that moving to a hand count carried significant risks. County lawyers also told board members that they, too, weren’t sure if the plan was legal, according to NBC News.

But the county still authorized a hand-count test run, which revealed that such a shift would cost the county at least a million dollars. Hand counters also made a significant number of errors. Per NBC:

There were counting errors in 46 of 30,600 races on the ballots, as the team tallying the results of the election made mistakes. According to a report prepared for the Board of Supervisors, some of the observed errors included: bored and tired staffers who stopped watching the process, messy handwriting in tallies, fast talkers, or staffers who heard or said the wrong candidate’s name.

Each ballot took three minutes to count, Tempert said. At that pace, it would take a group of seven staffers at least 657 eight-hour days to count 105,000 ballots, the number of ballots cast in 2020. Mohave County would need to hire at least 245 people to tally results and have counting take place seven days a week, including holidays, for nearly three weeks. That estimate doesn’t include the time needed for reconciling mistakes, or counting write-in ballots, Tempert’s report added. …

The total cost for the staffing, renting for a large venue for the counting, security cameras, and other associated costs was staggering: $1,108,486.

And so, in the end, the county board voted 3-2 against getting rid of ballot-counting machines, after spending months debating the move.

Election administrators in counties across the country are grappling with efforts by activist to push hand counts ahead of 2024. Conspiracy theories of the sort pushed by Donald Trump and his allies, like the MyPillow Guy, about electronic voting machines remain very popular, fueling these proposals. Earlier this year TPM published a piece that dug into a similar issue in Shasta County, California, where the county board — which was taken over by far-right conspiracy theorists post-2020 — bought into conspiracy theories and voted to move to hand counts. Board members were specifically in touch with Mike Lindell about the move and the pillow magnate even promised board members he would help them financially if they faced legal trouble.

The county clerk there told TPM that she warned the board of potential legal issues and the exorbitant costs of moving to such a system — the same kinds of issues that the test run revealed to Mohave County officials.

After the move to a manual tally was approved last month, Allen, the county clerk, told TPM that she worried the supervisors didn’t understand the scope of what they were asking for. 

report released by her office on March 28 attempted to explain to county supervisors that a hand-count wouldn’t do much to make the election more secure, as the hard-right trio have claimed. Instead, it could do the opposite.

“[I]n a county the size and complexity of Shasta, hand counting every ballot—particularly without verification by another method, normally a machine count—is not a best practice,” the report states. “Full manual tallies are expensive, complex, and prone to significant errors.”

You can read that piece from April 2023 here.

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