‘The poison continues to spread’: legal losses fail to quell election denial hotbed | Arizonathedigitalchaps


In the year since two elected officials in rural Arizona tried to hand-count ballots then refused to certify an election, the consequences have started to trickle in.

Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby, the two Republican supervisors in Cochise county who led these efforts, were recently subpoenaed as part of an investigation by the state’s attorney general.

The Republican-led county on the US-Mexico border has had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and settlements for the lawsuits it faced in the wake of Crosby and Judd’s decisions. They have lost in court multiple times in their quest to prevent machine counting – part of an ongoing rightwing effort to switch to hand counts – and stall election results.

The elections department has had four different leaders in the past year. A longtime elections director left because of a hostile work environment, followed by the county’s recorder taking over her duties. The county then hired a director who had questioned election results in the past, only to see that director leave quickly to return to the previous county he worked in, which he called a “welcoming home”. The current director, Tim Maddix, has been on the job since October.

To settle a lawsuit from the former director Lisa Marra, who left because of a toxic work environment caused by the two supervisors, the county’s insurance paid out $130,000. Other legal fees, primarily in the form of paying the costs of the other side’s attorneys in losses, have totaled nearly $170,000.

Still, the costs and consequences so far haven’t quelled election denialism in the county. An effort to recall Crosby fell short of its signature goal in May, and the former supervisor is now crowdfunding for legal help to continue his crusade. (Crosby and Judd did not respond to requests for interviews.)

The rural, red county has became a microcosm of far-right election fervor that’s featured a host of conspiracies and attempts to curtail voting access. Proponents have pushed the county to hand-count all ballots, get rid of any machines involved in the voting process, end voting by mail and vote solely on one day. They have rarely pointed to any specific claims of fraud in Cochise’s elections, but instead called out problems in other places or cited potential issues.

Cochise itself is not a swing county – it is reliably Republican. Arizona overall, though, has grown more purple in recent years, resulting in a backlash from the right over the state’s direction.

The topic has gripped the county’s meetings, with regular appearances from people speaking in favor of hand counts and against voting by mail or machine counting. Even during meetings where election considerations aren’t on the agenda, several speakers will focus on the topic during public comment periods. In response, a group of people who support the way elections have run there and opposed the hand count and certification delay have routinely spoken up at supervisors’ meetings.

Tricia Gerrodette, an unaffiliated voter who lives in Crosby’s district, started speaking up at meetings again after a decade or so off from the practice. She helped the effort that sought to recall Crosby. She doesn’t think her comments will sway the two supervisors at this point, but she has a broader mission.

“It’s more letting the general public, the population, know that there are other voices that do trust the elections, so we’re not drowned out by the deniers,” she said.

Despite the recall’s failure, its proponents say they found a broad array of voters from all political backgrounds who were sick of the election denial sideshow. They also informed many voters who weren’t aware of what supervisors do or what had happened with the election. Crosby now faces a Republican primary challenger in his re-election bid.

Tom Crosby.
Tom Crosby: ‘I have been an elections integrity proponent since before it became popular.’ Photograph: Alberto Mariani/AP

Some in the county wanted the state’s attorney general, Democrat Kris Mayes, to launch an investigation into the supervisors’ actions. It appears Mayes is doing just that. Crosby and Judd were summoned to a grand jury proceeding this month, and the Democratic supervisor, Ann English, told Votebeat that investigators asked her about the hand count and certification issues. (Mayes’s office would only confirm an active investigation into open meetings law violations.)

In a post on the rightwing crowdfunding site GiveSendGo, Crosby sought donations to defend himself. He has raised nearly $3,000 with a goal of $100,000.

“I have been an elections integrity proponent since before it became popular,” he wrote. “I have heard that a grand jury subpeona [sic] is almost a guaranteed indictment. If that is the case, I would expect to go to trial, and be stuck with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars of court costs and legal fees. If my legal adversary is successful in defeating me, it will intimidate other AZ County Supervisors into falling in line with the globalist plans of compromised elections, and forced use of voting machines.”

In a board meeting this month, after hearing from people commenting on elections issues, Crosby foreshadowed that “election integrity issues are not going to go away heading into a presidential election year.”

As for Judd, who once said she was prepared to go to jail for her vote in favor of a full hand count, she told Votebeat that she felt “used” by outside attorneys who advised her on the issue and that she wouldn’t vote similarly this election.

Cochise’s troubles have so far deterred other Arizona counties from following suit. Mohave county, a Republican-led county, has twice rejected attempts to hand-count ballots, despite heavy lobbying efforts from state lawmakers and some local residents. The costs and potential legal consequences, highlighted by the county’s attorney and elections director, have kept Mohave from moving ahead with a hand count for 2024’s elections there. In advance of a second vote on a hand count earlier this week, Mayes’s office sent a letter to Mohave’s supervisors reminding them that undertaking a hand count would be illegal, and they would be sued for it.

While the hand count and certification issues already worked their way through the courts, an investigation into the issue takes time. In the meantime, the local Democratic party chair, Elisabeth Tyndall, said, “the poison continues to spread.”

All elections now are under intense scrutiny. A local all-mail election to fund jails snagged a lawsuit that sought to nullify the results and claimed the votes were all illegal. It was dismissed. When the board met to accept the results of the jail district election, Crosby abstained from the vote.

“It’s this cascading effect of creating distrust and creating chaos around basic maintenance elections, things that shouldn’t be controversial. It’s a yes or no vote,” Tyndall said. “It shouldn’t be a knockdown, dragout about whether mail-in elections are valid.”

The Mayes investigation came as welcome news to those who have been sounding the alarm about democracy issues in Cochise county, though there is also a concern that any criminal charges stemming from the hand count and certification issues could backfire, especially during a high-profile presidential election year in a swing state.

“I’m concerned that a felony charge … would really galvanize the opposition,” Gerrodette said. “And I’m just not sure what direction that might go. There’s some really angry people out there who really believe that their votes aren’t being counted, I guess.”