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American Oversight sues Cochise County for election-related records

The nonpartisan watchdog group that successfully sued the Arizona Senate to obtain records related to its so-called “audit” of Maricopa County’s 2020 election has now set its sights on Cochise County.

American Oversight filed a lawsuit against the county seeking documents related to its election administration, including internal and external communications about the decision by two Republican county supervisors to delay certification of the 2022 election and attempts to force a full hand count of 2022 ballots in violation of state law.

Republican County Supervisors Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby put the county’s approximately 47,000 votes at risk when they initially refused to certify the county’s election by a legally-mandated deadline in November 2022. A judge eventually ordered the Board of Supervisors to meet to certify the results a few days later.

Judd and Crosby pleaded not guilty in December to felony charges related to their decision to delay certification of the election.

In a separate case, the state Court of Appeals ruled counties don’t have the authority to order a full hand count of ballots. That case was filed by voting rights groups after Crosby and Judd passed a resolution calling on the county recorder to hand-count the county's ballots.

Heather Sawyer, the executive director of American Oversight, said the organization’s goal is twofold: to shine a light on the board’s actions and to deter election officials from pursuing similar paths in the future. 

“It’s incredibly important to understand what was happening to understand what could happen in the future, and honestly to hopefully deter other actions that could put at risk the votes of Arizonans,” Sawyer said.

American Oversight is seeking a range of records, including internal and external communications, to understand who Judd and Crosby were talking to and how much public money they spent on the efforts. 

“So for the public to truly understand the full realm — the cost to them, the basis for the actions and who people were communicating with. Who was potentially influencing what the board was doing?” Sawyer said.  

Unlike the lawsuit filed against the Arizona Senate, Sawyer said Cochise County hasn’t denied its records requests outright or claimed that the documents the organization seeks are not subject to Arizona’s Public Records Law.

“They’ve said, ‘we’ll work on them,’ but they really haven’t responded,” she said.

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.