Republican Juan Ciscomani’s victory should be a lock already. The winner in Arizona’s competitive 6th Congressional District, Ciscomani defeated his Democratic opponent by more than 5,000 votes.
But a procedural hiccup stands between Ciscomani and his hard-won congressional seat. AZ-06 contains Cochise County, a solidly red county where officials have refused to certify the midterm results, in violation of a state deadline. If Arizona officials don’t have Cochise County’s vote totals by the time of their state-level certification next week, all of Cochise’s votes could be tossed out, costing Ciscomani his victory.
Don’t worry, Cochise supervisors say. They’ll have the votes in soon.
“We are gonna certify it,” Cochise County Supervisor Peggy Judd told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
“We’re just trying to get some answers to things about the machines. We full well intend to certify it. Why would we not? You know? So we’re going to, we’re just holding off as long as we can, doing things that are legal for us to do, no matter what they say. It’s so weird, we've been kind of dealing with this the whole time. They keep telling us ‘That’s illegal. You’re gonna go to jail,’ but it hasn’t been so, you know, law is up to interpretation. Only the judge in the end can say.”
Those legal threats date back to before the election.
Cochise County was among a handful of districts to move for a hand-recount of its midterm vote. Although election audits are routine, election security experts advise against hand recounts, which studies have repeatedly shown to be more error-prone and expensive than electronic recounts. Nevertheless, hand-counts have come into favor among some conspiracy theorists who claim (without evidence) that electronic voting machines cost Donald Trump the 2020 election. Some of those recount advocates call for discarding all voting machines and conducting elections entirely through hand-counted paper ballots.
Cochise’s hand-count effort quickly got the county sued by a resident and a retiree group, which called the campaign “unlawful, chaotic, time-consuming and unnecessary.” The county fought back with help from a lawyer who’d previously represented an equally chaotic “audit” effort in Arizona’s Maricopa County. A judge ultimately decided against the county, ruling that local officials could only hand-count small portions of ballots to ensure consistency.
At a Nov. 18 meeting of Cochise’s board of supervisors, Judd voted against certifying the county’s midterm results, in part because of the lack of a hand recount, and in part she distrusts voting machines.
“I myself have a hard time trusting any computer,” Judd said at the board meeting. “I don’t even trust my cellphone and it’s a flip phone. And I don’t trust it.”
That decision led to more legal trouble. Arizona law states that county officials must meet and certify their election results “not less than six days nor more than twenty days following the election.”
But when the 20-day deadline arrived on Monday, Cochise County supervisors delayed the certification until at least Friday, citing apparent concerns with voting machines.
“They messed up and didn't certify machines during COVID and said it was because of COVID, because of travel restrictions,” Judd told The Daily Beast. “My gosh, I flew during COVID, I didn't even get vaccinated and I was still flying during COVID. All I had to do was not have a fever and wear a mask.”
Those claims about the voting machines “lacks any factual basis,” reads a lawsuit from Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Democrat who won the gubernatorial race against MAGA diehard and election denier Kari Lake. The lawsuit, filed against Cochise County after its refusal to certify the votes, includes copies of the voting machines’ up-to-date certifications.
Previously, Judd suggested to The New York Times that the delay was just a stalling tactic. “It’s the only thing we have to stand on,” she said of her claims about the voting machines.
In addition to Hobbs’ lawsuit, which seeks to compel Cochise County’s certification, some former state officials have called for criminal charges against Judd and another Cochise County supervisor who voted against certifying.
In a joint letter to Arizona’s attorney general and Cochise County’s attorney, former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard (a Democrat) and former Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley (a Republican) accused Judd of a felony and two misdemeanors for delaying the certification past its deadline.
Judd said she doesn’t think she’s broken any laws, and that she thinks her deadline for certifying the vote extends until Dec. 8, the last legal day for state-level officials to certify the state-wide election. (The first sentence of Hobbs’ lawsuit states that Cochise’s deadline was Nov. 28.)
“I don’t wanna go to jail,” Judd said, “but we don’t see that happening. There are people that are working on things and I'm giving them a chance to work on things.”
If Cochise doesn’t certify its elections, the state might not be able to include the county’s votes, “potentially disenfranch[ing] the voters of Cochise County,” Hobbs warned in her lawsuit. “The Secretary thus brings this action to ensure that those voters’ voices are heard and their votes counted.”
Some election conspiracy theorists, including a New Mexico-based influencer who recently spoke at a demonstration to demand a new Arizona election, have shared messages in support of Cochise County supervisors.
But the county’s rogue actions could indeed end up hurting at least two midterm winners—but not Democrats.
In a twist, if Cochise doesn’t certify in time, Ciscomani—the GOP congressman who won the race for AZ-06—will lose the county’s critical votes and the seat could flip blue. Much of Ciscomani’s 5,232-vote margin of victory came from Cochise, where he led his Democratic opponent Kirsten Engel by 13,775 votes. Neither Ciscomani nor Engel returned requests for comment on the unusual circumstances.
Ciscomani wouldn’t be the only Republican winner to fall behind his opponent should Cochise County fail to certify, the Arizona Mirror notes. A close race for superintendent of Arizona schools saw Republican Tom Horne defeat Democrat Kathy Hoffman by just 8,968 votes. In Cochise County, Horne led Hoffman by 9,310 votes—enough to cancel his victory in the unlikely event that the county’s results are discarded.
“There’s more time,” Judd told The Daily Beast. “It’s extended till the 8th for the Secretary of State and she will get her certification. She just needs to wait. And hopefully something happens between now and then with these other players. But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, I’m not gonna let my county’s voters not get counted. It wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone.”
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