Republicans try again to force 'impossible' hand counts of elections and a return to precinct voting
Arizona Republicans have taken another step in their attempt to completely overhaul elections in the Grand Canyon State, with a proposed bill that would force hand counts in the state’s elections, a practice that elections experts say would be logistically impossible.
The measure to ban votes from being counted with electronic tabulators — equipment used in every Arizona city and county, and in virtually every election office across the nation — stems from a demand from constituents requiring hand counts of election results because of their general mistrust of voting machines, said Rep. Cory McGarr, R-Marana.
A false belief that electronic ballot tabulators are designed to change votes so Republican candidates lose has become increasingly popular since President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. Believers in the “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump began demanding hand counts following that election, and this isn’t the first time such a bill has been proposed in the Arizona legislature.
Jen Marson, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of Counties, had a laundry list of questions for McGarr about his House Bill 2307, since it does not include any specifics about how the hand counts would work.
McGarr said he didn’t have any suggestions for how to handle the hand count but was sure that the counties could “figure that out.”
“This is impossible,” Marson told the committee.
While several committee members who voted in favor of the bill pointed out that France, which has a much bigger population than Arizona, uses hand counts in its elections, Marson countered that France’s ballots typically contain one choice to be tallied on each ballot.
Elections in the U.S. typically have some of the longest ballots in the democratic world, according to the MIT Election Lab.
During Arizona’s last election, some ballots contained more than 70 choices. That would make for more than 150 million ovals across the state that would have to be counted, if counties counted all races by hand. And it’s standard when doing hand counts to count everything twice — meaning 300 million individual choices would be tallied.
“If this is impossible, how did we do it for so many years?” Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, retorted.
Marson answered that elections in Arizona have not been counted by hand in a very long time, adding that voting machines were being used in the state by the late 1800s.
Hand counting elections is not considered a best practice because humans are more prone to error than machines, studies have shown. In Arizona, there are post-election hand-count audits to ensure the accuracy of the machines. In 2022, those audits found no problems with how the machines tallied the ballots.
The hand-counting bill passed the committee by a 6-4 vote along party lines, with Republicans in favor.
Convenient voting locations should be scrapped, Republicans say
Several of the proponents of a hand count said that switching from a vote center model, which allows any voter in a county to cast their ballot at any center, back to a precinct model would help facilitate hand counting. Proponents of the vote center model say it’s more convenient, as voters can cast their ballot near their work or their child’s school, instead of being tied to a single precinct location.
Using vote centers also has nearly eliminated all provisional ballots, which were regularly used when a voter showed up at the wrong precinct. The vast majority of those ballots were never counted.
Maricopa County began using voting centers in 2016, and Pima County began using them last year. Some Arizona counties still use precincts.
Rep. Justin Heap, R-Mesa, suggested capping each precinct at 1,000 to 1,500 voters.
In the last election, there were 223 voting centers in Maricopa County, but if all of its almost 2.5 million registered voters were divided among precincts capped at 1,500 registered voters, the county would need more than 1,600 precincts. And the county would have to staff those precincts, when it already struggles to find poll workers for its voting centers.
The committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 2304, which would ban voting centers and force counties to use the precinct model instead.
Heap argued that many of the problems that voters experienced in Maricopa County in the general election, when malfunctioning printers caused long lines and tabulation issues, would be fixed by reverting back to using precincts.
Maricopa County uses ballot-on-demand printers to print ballots at its vote centers, because workers can’t be sure how many voters will show up to each center or which of the county’s multiple kinds of ballots they’ll need.
With precincts, since there’s a fixed number of voters living there who will be voting on the same local races, ballots are printed beforehand.
Jody Liggett, a lobbyist for the League of Women Voters, spoke against the bill, saying that more people’s ballots end up being thrown out when using precincts, because some people inevitably vote at the wrong precinct, and if they do their votes can’t be counted.
In addition to a slew of other elections bills that have already passed through state legislative committees this session, the House Municipal Oversight and Elections Committee on Wednesday also approved:
- House Bill 2233, which would give candidates who go to court to contest election results more time to prepare their cases, widen the basis upon which an election claim can be filed, give greater access to election documents for candidates to use as evidence and send appeals directly to the state Supreme Court. Chandler Republican Rep. Liz Harris, who introduced the bill, said she worked on it along with one of the lawyers who represented failed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake in her ongoing election contest.
- House Bill 2305, which would require that observers from both the Democratic and Republican parties are allowed to watch the entire process of signature verification for early voting ballots.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.