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County supervisors in Arizona face intense public pressure to reject election results, but most certify anyway

In Maricopa County, residents lash out at supervisors and dismiss explanations of Election Day problems. In Cochise, supervisors postpone certification again.

A woman holds a large sign that reads, “We the people demand voter transparency” while people line up behind her.

A long line of people wait to get inside the Maricopa County supervisors boardroom Monday, prior to the meeting at which the supervisors certified the county’s November election, despite protests.

Jen Fifield / Votebeat

Lydia Abril placed a Bible on the podium, adjusted the microphone, and told the elected officials in front of her that she wanted to pass along a message from God.

“Justice? You high and mighty politicians don’t even know the meaning of the word,” Abril read aloud from Psalm 58. The crowd behind her raised their hands in praise, wiggling their fingers in support. “The godly shall rejoice in the triumph of right, they shall walk the bloodstained fields of slaughtered, wicked men.”

The Wickenburg resident’s grievance with the Maricopa County supervisors? Their insistence on voting Monday to certify the county’s midterm election, as required by state law.

All across Arizona on Monday morning, from here, in the state’s largest county, south to Cochise County, and north to Mohave and Yavapai counties, the counties’ supervisors — mostly Republicans — have faced pressure for weeks to reject the election results by the Monday deadline. Republicans lost most top offices, including an open U.S. Senate seat, governor, and secretary of state.  A GOP pressure campaign has targeted the supervisors in all corners of the state, demanding they rerun the election based on vague allegations of malfeasance and machine vulnerabilities. Crowds gathered in boardrooms, and speaker after speaker told supervisors across the state that they did not trust the election and wanted a new one.

In all counties but one, the supervisors followed state law and voted to certify their election. The exception was Cochise County. The two Republicans on the three-member board voted to discuss the certification again on Dec. 2 — Republican Supervisor Tom Crosby said they were not convinced the machines were properly certified, even though the secretary of state’s office has repeatedly sent emails to supervisors providing documentation. In response, the secretary of state’s office sued on Monday evening, asking a court to force the Cochise supervisors to certify.

The court will certainly do so, and will act before the secretary of state is required to certify the statewide election on Dec. 5, several election lawyers in the state told Votebeat last week.

The pressure not to certify was especially intense in Maricopa County, which faced an Election Day plagued with widespread ballot printing problems that have so far led to a lawsuit from a Republican candidate claiming that voters were disenfranchised. Public speakers at meetings to consider certification around the state brought up Maricopa County’s problems.

Cochise County Supervisor Ann English, a Democrat, told her colleagues what happened in Maricopa County should not affect their vote.

“There is no reason for us to delay,” English said during the 7-minute meeting. “No matter how you feel about what happened in Maricopa or Pima or Mojave or Apache, we’re here to talk about Cochise County.”  

In Maricopa County, never in recent history has the boardroom seen a crowd as large as the one that filled the room on Monday. The supervisors had to limit the number of people in the room, which seats about 200, forcing some people to wait outside. And never before has a crowd this large demanded a halt to certifying an election. The supervisors faced the same pressure not to certify in 2020, but the county did not allow public comment in person because of COVID-19 protocols.

Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates demanded decorum at the start of the meeting, but the crowd applauded and called out in support as speakers called the supervisors “evil,” “snakes,” “crooked,” and “traitors.” Many said they felt that if the supervisors voted to certify, it would be the start of voters losing representative government in the future.

“This is a war between good and evil, and you all represent evil,” one man told the supervisors from the podium.

Just as in 2020, the supervisors did not acquiesce. After hearing impassioned public comment for two hours and discussing the county’s election for two more, the supervisors unanimously voted to certify the election.

“There is no question we can do better,” Gates said, before the vote. “We will do better next time.”

In his office after the vote, Gates said he appreciated the public discussion, but he isn’t bothered over how the election went, or about the demands on him.

“I’m sleeping well,” he said.

The election wasn’t perfect, he said, but it was well-run and did not disenfranchise voters.

Gates has been the face of the county’s election in the media and has borne the brunt of harassment from those angry about the printer errors that caused widespread tabulation delays on Election Day — so much so that, on the night of the election, he had to spend the night in a hotel out of fear for his personal safety.

“You can’t get thrown off by personal attacks,” Gates said. “It’s important that all these folks be heard. And I feel good they were all heard today.”

Gates and the supervisors were heckled throughout the meeting. A dozen sheriff’s deputies, spread around the perimeter of the meeting room, escorted several people out when they lashed out from their seats.

This was especially true as the county’s two elections directors explained how the county corrected and provided back-up options for voters when problems arose. At about 30% of vote centers, printer problems caused vote-counting machines not to accept ballots. The workaround was to put ballots in a secure box to be tabulated later at the county’s central elections center. As Elections Director Scott Jarrett explained that all of these ballots were counted, the crowd laughed.

At two vote centers, uncounted and counted ballots were comingled by poll workers. The county had to re-tabulate all ballots cast at the locations and re-upload the results, Jarrett explained.

Supervisor Steve Gallardo said that this explanation, showing that all votes had been properly counted despite the problems, was key. He said this shows that the county was able to ensure the results were correct, describing it as taking “the salt out of the soup.”

Gail Golec, who ran for county supervisor in 2021 and told supervisors they shouldn’t certify the election earlier in the meeting, called out at that point. “No, you can’t!” she shouted from her seat.

“Yes, you can,” Gallardo said back. Golec then walked out of the meeting briefly.

“At the end of the day, every ballot was counted,” Gallardo said. “Some people may not want to believe that or buy that, but that is the truth.”

While most commenters were angry, some defended the supervisors and election workers and asked supervisors to certify the election. That included Ben Scheel, who asked the supervisors to have courage.

“It shouldn’t be controversial to do your duty and follow the law,” Scheel said.

As the supervisors voted to certify, Golec shouted from her seat.

“You need to nullify!” she said. “Nullify! Nullify!”

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