/ Modified mar 19, 2024 1:45 p.m.

Nonprofit sues Cochise County, alleges noncompliance with the Arizona Public Records Law

American Oversight alleges the county failed fully fulfill public records requests relating the 2022 General Election among other requests for records

cochise county seal The seal of Cochise County.

Nonprofit American Oversight has filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Cochise County, its Board of Supervisors and the County Recorder, alleging the county failed to fully abide by Arizona Public Records Law.

The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit advocates for government accountability. It alleges the county failed to fully fulfill public records requests made for communications and documents that relate to the County Supervisors’ attempt to conduct a hand count audit of all the votes cast in Cochise County precincts in the 2022 general election — as well as budget records for outside legal counsel the board obtained and the board’s failure to certify the election by the state’s deadline. The records requests also included communications and documentation from the Cochise County Recorder's office and Elections Department.

Executive Director of American Oversight Heather Sawyer said one of the reasons the organization requested records is to shed light on the board’s reasoning behind why they wanted to do a hand-count audit of votes cast in the county in the 2022 General Election.

“It’s not entirely clear why, and what justified that, who all was trying to influence that decision, and honestly, whether what the board was saying behind closed doors matches what they were saying in public,” Sawyer told AZPM Wednesday evening.

Sawyer said another reason the nonprofit requested records from the county is to bring to light the motivations behind the decisions.

“It’s really so that the public understands what motivated these decisions to transfer election authority and bring in Bob Bartelsmeyer, who was involved in those decisions, you know, what was going on honestly behind closed doors with these very significant changes to election administration in the county,” she said.

The Cochise County Superior Court confirmed the lawsuit has been filed, but the County Attorney told AZPM as of Wednesday afternoon they have not been served with the complaint yet.

American Oversight began to focus on Cochise County around the 2022 midterm election.

"In the four years since the 2020 election, the election-denier movement has remained a very significant threat to democracy," said Sawyer. "Cochise County, and in particular in the run up to the midterms, was really an area where there was a lot of fomenting about unwarranted concerns about election security and integrity — potential concerns about voter fraud. And it was made clear in the run up when there were proposals about moving to hand-counts, which would inevitably delay certification of the vote, that there was potential mischief afoot. So we started monitoring, we sent in records requests, we sent in records requests back then in November of 2022. Many of those requests remain unanswered and that's why we have now moved to filing a lawsuit to enforce the public's right to those records."

Sawyer said if the county agrees to turn the requested records over to American Oversight without going to court, they will drop the suit.

"We sue only when we have to," she said. "If we believe the defendant has fully complied with the request, you know, we're thrilled — case over. We do then settle the matter ... Our goal is to get the records. The quicker we can do that, all the better."

The full complaint can be viewed through American Oversight's website.

By posting comments, you agree to our
AZPM encourages comments, but comments that contain profanity, unrelated information, threats, libel, defamatory statements, obscenities, pornography or that violate the law are not allowed. Comments that promote commercial products or services are not allowed. Comments in violation of this policy will be removed. Continued posting of comments that violate this policy will result in the commenter being banned from the site.

By submitting your comments, you hereby give AZPM the right to post your comments and potentially use them in any other form of media operated by this institution.
AZPM is a service of the University of Arizona and our broadcast stations are licensed to the Arizona Board of Regents who hold the trademarks for Arizona Public Media and AZPM. We respectfully acknowledge the University of Arizona is on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples.
The University of Arizona