By Gloria Gomez/UA Don Bolles Fellow/AZ Mirror
PHOENIX — Elections across the state could be open to court-ordered recounts under a new legislative proposal that allows Arizonans to file actions in superior court if they also provide the funding, and critics say that could open the door to wealthy special interest groups.
“Not to get too conspiratorial but what if a George Soros or a Koch Brothers fund came in and started paying for recounts in election races that they didn’t like the outcomes in?” asked Rep. Sarah Liguori, D-Phoenix, during a House Government and Elections Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Liguori objected to the measure’s preference for moneyed Arizonans, saying it could exacerbate wealth disparities in access to the political process. To request a recount, Senate Bill 1259 requires residents to pay for the entirety of the process.
“If I am wealthy and angry, I can demand a recount somewhere (because) I can afford it. But someone else, if it’s cost prohibitive, might not be able to. So does it skew to high income earners or people with more means to be able to facilitate this process, and then go district to district, county to county demanding recounts?” she asked.
In other states that allow people to pay for recounts, those efforts have been undertaken by entities like political parties and campaigns.
Under current law, general elections with particularly narrow margins are subject to an automatic recount. Automatic recounts are triggered by races where the margin of victory is within one-tenth of 1%, or a specific number of votes, which varies depending on the total number of votes cast in that race. For example, elections in which a candidate won by 200 votes in an election with a total vote count greater than 25,000 is automatically recounted.
SB1259 would allow for all other general elections that don’t qualify for an automatic recount to be questioned by the attorney general, secretary of state, Legislative Council or Arizona residents. Actions filed by any of the first three would be paid for by the state, while residents would foot the bill themselves.
Special districts like school boards and fire district boards, ballot measures and precinct committeemen elections are exempt from recount requests. The bill would not apply to primary elections.
It’s unclear what the exact costs of recounts would be. Jen Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, said that a fee schedule would need to be drawn up that includes estimates for every race. Counties would be in charge of recounts and the price would factor in their extra time and labor. Marson said counties aren’t opposed to the measure after four months of discussion and negotiation over a proposal that was sponsored during the 2021 legislative session.
Recounts may be conducted by hand or electronic tabulators, and could involve a total vote review or just a verification of votes at a specific precinct or voting center. Those are choices left up to whoever filed the request.
House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, felt the potentially increased workload on the counties wouldn’t be adequately offset by covering the financial costs.
“I would hate to subject our county officials to have their staff consistently working on recount after recount when they actually could be performing other functions,” he said.
The bill limits the timeline of requests to within five days of the county’s canvass, but doesn’t account for multiple requests. Bolding worried the number of general elections across the state means voters could be waiting months for results.
Making it easier to cast doubt on election results could create a platform for disinformation, Bolding added, which has become a staple of recent politics since the 2020 presidential election.
The degree to which GOP candidates promote the false claims that former President Donald Trump lost the election because of voter fraud has often determined their political success.
“(It) just opens the door for any conspiracy theory-type candidate who’s not satisfied with the results,” he said.
The measure was approved by a party-line vote of 7-6 on Wednesday, and moves next to consideration by the full House.
Gloria Gomez, a senior at the University of Arizona, is the 2022 UA School of Journalism’s Don Bolles Fellow working with editors from the Arizona Mirror. Gomez has interned at the Arizona Daily Star and worked at the Arizona Daily Wildcat. She is a dual major in journalism and political science, with a Spanish minor. She’s a member of the Investigative Reporters and Editors and National Association of Hispanic Journalists. The UA School of Journalism started the fellowship in 1977 to honor Don Bolles, an Arizona Republic reporter killed in a 1976 car bombing.