Arizona AG suing Cochise County to stop it from giving recorder full authority over elections
Attorney General Kris Mayes has filed a lawsuit against Cochise County, the members of its board of supervisors and its county recorder over a plan approved last month that gives the recorder full authority over all election matters.
Mayes’ office and the Cochise county attorney had both warned the board that the move was legally questionable and was likely to trigger a lawsuit.
Mayes alleges in her suit that the board of supervisors gave away the authority that is delegated to them in Arizona law to the recorder, David Stevens, in an unconstitutional and unlawful manner. She is asking the courts to block the transfer of authority and make sure no public money is used.
“[A] county sheriff cannot give his powers and duties related to law enforcement and jail supervision to the county assessor, just as the assessor may not give her powers and duties related to assessment to the sheriff,” Solicitor General Joshua Bendor argued in the suit. “Without legislative authorization, a board of supervisors may not give its powers and duties over elections to the sheriff, assessor, or anyone else—including the recorder.”
County boards are authorized to oversee a litany of things related to elections, including establishing precincts, appointing election judges, preparing ballots, issuing voter instructions and procuring election equipment.
On Feb. 28, the board was scheduled to meet to discuss a broad agreement that would hand its election authorities over to the recorder. The day before, Bendor sent a letter to the Cochise County Attorney’s Office and to the board expressing the AG’s concern.
The County “did not provide any legal authority in response” when the AG asked the county to defend its authority to make such changes. Supervisor Peggy Judd, a Republican, said at the Feb. 28 meeting that they planned to “negotiate” with the AG, acknowledging that County Attorney Brian McIntire agreed with the AG’s analysis.
Stevens keeps a low profile, but is “best friends” with failed GOP secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem, who has been an outspoken proponent of a litany of baseless election fraud claims.
The controversy over shifting all election responsibilities to Stevens is only the latest in a series of election-related dustups in the small southern Arizona county. Last month, long-time County Elections Director Lisa Marra resigned, citing a threatening work environment in which she refused to cooperate with the full-hand recount that would have been illegal. And the county supervisors, led by Judd and fellow Republican Tom Crosby, only canvassed the 2022 election after a judge ordered them to do so.
In a statement issued alongside the lawsuit, Mayes called the agreement “unlawful” and an “unqualified handover.”
“While counties may appropriately enter into cooperative agreements with their recorders to manage elections, Cochise County’s agreement steps far over the legal line,” Mayes said. “In addition to this broad transfer of power, I am deeply concerned this move might shield or obscure actions and deliberations the Board would typically conduct publicly under open meeting law.”
Mayes added that she doesn’t take suing public officials “lightly” but that it is her job to “bring action when public officials unlawfully exercise their power or act outside the confines of their authority.”
Mayes previously told the Arizona Mirror that she is planning to pursue those who aim to undermine Arizona’s elections and those who threaten election workers.
Cochise County said they would not comment on pending litigation and the Cochise County Recorder’s Office did not respond to a request for comment. Supervisors Judd and Crosby did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Stevens told the Mirror that he couldn’t comment on pending litigation, but said the board of supervisors was likely to convene an emergency meeting on March 8 to discuss the lawsuit.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.