The Cochise County Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 on Tuesday to move administrative authority over the county’s elections department to the County Recorder following the vacancy of the elections director position.
The agreement now designates the county recorder, a partisan elected official, as the elections officer for the county. Republican David Stevens currently holds the position of county recorder in Cochise County.
“The Board and the Recorder agree that combining all election-related functions under one department promotes economy, efficiency, and public confidence,” the agreement stated.
In a letter drafted to Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre, Arizona Solicitor General Joshua Bendor cautioned about the legality of the move.
“The draft agreement does not cite any basis for the Board’s authority to delegate its statutorily assigned election duties to the Recorder, a constitutionally distinct county officer,” Bendor wrote in a letter dated on February 27. “Nor does the draft agreement cite any authority for the Board and the Recorder to enlarge the Recorder’s powers beyond what the Legislature has prescribed.”
Now that the board has moved forward with approving the agreement, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes said that her office will be reviewing legal options.
“Last night my office sent a letter to Cochise County officials with serious questions about the legality of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors' plan to delegate all responsibility for the operation and administration of elections to County Recorder David Stevens,” said Mayes in an email. “The Board has now moved forward with this plan despite the fact that these questions remain unanswered. My office will be reviewing all legal options available to us regarding this matter.”
Republican Supervisor Peggy Judd said that she didn’t think the letter bears much weight.
“We have this letter, oh my gosh,” said Judd. “But it doesn’t sound like it has a whole bunch of character, or meat to us — to me … It’s not accusatory enough. It’s almost like he did — or she — Kris Mayes — didn’t actually know what to tell us. She just wanted to tell us something to stop us.”
Board chair and Democratic Supervisor Ann English says that she believes the board is acting inappropriately.
“We’ve built this house on sand,” said English, who voted against the agreement with the county recorder. “I think that you have vilified the election process.”
In Arizona, county elections directors are a nonpartisan position that is filled by an appointment from either the board of supervisors or the county recorder according to the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission’s website.
This agreement will place the authority of appointing an elections director under the county recorder; the agreement also states that any appointment is subject to approval by the board.
In a special meeting on Valentine’s day, Cochise County Administrator Richard Karwaczka said that prior to the agreement’s drafting and approval, administrative and managerial functions of elections were delegated to the county administrator by the board of supervisors.
This moves administrative authority over the elections department away from the county administrator, a nonpartisan county official who is appointed by the board of supervisors.
As the official elections officer, Recorder Stevens will now manage all elections department personnel, the budget, and he will receive all nomination papers and petitions for candidates for public office.
The recorder will also be in charge of distributing the official election canvass for the county and special districts and all other elections duties under Title 19, which include referendum and recall petitions.
Cochise County isn’t the first county to have its recorder oversee elections.
Maricopa County had an agreement with its county recorder to oversee elections from the 1950s to 2016.
This agreement was modified in 2016 when the Maricopa Board of Supervisors entered into an Elections Operations Agreement with the county recorder.
“The Elections Department is under the Board and in charge of Emergency, Election Day, and tabulation, while the Recorder is responsible for voter registration, mail-in voting, and early voting operations,” said Jessie Caraveo, Senior Communications Officer for Maricopa County in an email.
In January, Lisa Marra, the Cochise County Elections Director, notified the county she was resigning. Her letter said that the working environment was threatening both physically and mentally.
Marra had refused to go along with attempts by the two Republican members of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors attempts to have a 100% hand count of the election.