Dec 1 (Reuters) - A conservative, rural Arizona county that had defied a state deadline to certify its Nov. 8 midterm election results relented on Thursday after a judge said state law required the approval.
Superior Court Judge Casey McGinley ruled at a hearing on Thursday that the Cochise County board of supervisors did not have the right to block certification.
“The board of supervisors has a nondiscretionary duty to canvas the returns,” McGinley said during the livestreamed hearing, citing Arizona law. He added “it has no authority to change vote totals or reject the election results.”
The two Republicans on the county's three-member board of supervisors had resisted the certification because they said they wanted to hear more evidence from those who have argued, without evidence, that the county’s voting machines were not properly certified. The state disputed that claim.
Arizona’s Secretary of State's office filed a lawsuit against the board on Monday after the county officials defied the state deadline for certification. Arizona law requires counties to certify election results by Nov. 28, ahead of the state's certification on Dec. 5.
Soon after the court hearing on Thursday, the board approved the election results. Tom Crosby, one of the two Republicans who had opposed certifying the vote, skipped the meeting, but said in an email to Reuters he did so on the advice of the board's attorney. He did not provide further details.
Peggy Judd, the other Republican member, said in the meeting she had no choice after the court order but to approve the results.
"I can't say enough about how important this effort is that we made, and I am not ashamed of anything I did," she said.
"People have lost their faith in elections," she added.
Arizona has been at the center of battles over election fraud allegations since former President Donald Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen from him. Several recounts of the 2020 votes in Arizona and elsewhere confirmed Joe Biden's victory.
Arizona's Republican candidate for governor this year, Kari Lake, embraced Trump’s stolen election claims and has refused to concede after losing to her opponent, current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, by just over 17,000 votes in the Nov. 8 election.
The defeat of Lake and other election deniers was seen as a powerful rebuke of candidates who echoed Trump’s myths of a stolen election, but some activists who promote false theories of voter fraud have refused to accept the results.
Voting rights expert Ryan Snow of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said he was unaware of any other case where a local board, whose role in the election process is limited to ratifying the work of election officials, had refused to certify the vote "on the basis of a thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory."
Last June in New Mexico, Otero County, which had objected to not carrying out a hand count of their primary election, only certified the results after a court ordered them to do so.
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