Cochise County supervisors plead not guilty in Arizona election interference case

Two Cochise County supervisors pleaded not guilty in Arizona state
court Thursday to charges of conspiracy and interfering with an
elections officer.

Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd, both Republican
supervisors on a three-person board governing the southeastern Arizona
county, are accused of conspiring to prevent canvassing the county’s
votes cast in the 2022 general election. The two voted in November 2022
to delay the canvass, the process of confirming each vote was counted
correctly, until they received satisfying evidence that the ballot
tabulation machines used to count the votes were properly certified. 

Eventually
the board completed the canvass and certified the results, in
compliance with a state judge’s order, three days after the legal
deadline to do so.

State Attorney General Kris Mayes returned a state grand jury indictment on Nov. 27, calling Crosby’s and Judd’s actions “attempts to undermine our democracy.”

The
indictment arises amid a surge of unproven claims of election fraud,
peddled mostly by Republican politicians who say the last two general
elections were stolen from Republican candidates. Donald Trump
and his political supporters first made such unfounded claims after he
lost the 2020 presidential election, and Arizona has become an epicenter
of the controversy. 

Crosby said in a 2022 board meeting that he
“has no reason to think the county’s 2020 election was dishonest,”
according to public meeting minutes. His constituents, though, thought
otherwise. 

“They were getting a ton of phone calls from their
constituents who wanted a hand count,” said Daniel McCauley, who briefly
represented the board when then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs sued it
for not canvassing by the required date. 

Many voters across the
state believed that the electronic ballot tabulation machines were
susceptible to hacking, and preferred a hand count of ballots instead.
The flames of those fears were stoked by claims by Trump-aligned
politicians like Kari Lake, who unsuccessfully sued the state intending to ban electronic tabulators. 

Cochise County planned to hand count the ballots until a state judge shot down the plan.

Seeking
to appease his voters, many of whom appeared at a Nov. 11, 2022, board
meeting to explain why they distrusted the electronic tabulators, Crosby
suggested that the board delay the canvass until more evidence is shown
that the tabulators were “lawfully accredited.”

By that time, the Arizona Supreme Court had already ruled that the tabulators were properly certified.

The
board voted 2-1, against the vote of Democrat and Chairperson Ann
English, to delay the canvass to Nov. 28 — the legal deadline to
complete it.

English called the move nothing more than an excuse to air election conspiracy theories. 

Two weeks later, Crosby again suggested delaying the canvass, with Judd’s support. English once again was outvoted.

“I
feel you both have the information necessary in order to make this
decisions that is non-discretionary on our part to certify the election
in Cochise County, no matter how you feel about what happened in
Maricopa, Pima, Mohave or Apache,” she told them at the meeting. 

The board then planned to reconvene Dec. 2, when it would hear from a representative of Hobbs.

English called that planned meeting “a circus that doesn’t have to happen.”

Sure
enough, the circus didn’t happen. Instead, a state judge called the
board to a hearing on Dec. 1, after Hobbs filed her lawsuit. He ordered
the three supervisors to canvass the votes by the end of that day.

They
reconvened later to do so, though Crosby stopped short. In the parking
lot, he told the county administrator he wouldn’t be going inside the
building nor participating in the vote, per advice of his new counsel.

McCauley filed a motion
before the meeting began to move the case into federal court,
instantaneously nullifying the state court’s order to complete the
canvass. 

McCauley apparently told Crosby not to go inside because
he no longer had to abide by that ruling, though McCauley said
Wednesday that he doesn’t recall having that conversation with Crosby.

The
effort was moot, though, as Judd and English voted 2-0 to complete the
canvass and send the results to Hobbs to complete the statewide
certification. 

Crosby’s attorney Dennis Wilenchik told the Arizona Republic
in November that the board’s actions didn’t interfere with Hobbs’ duty
to certify the results because even though the canvass was completed
after the required date, it was still handed over to Hobbs four days
before her deadline to complete the statewide certification. 

Each of the two counts are class 5 felonies, which could result in up to 2.5 years in prison or a $150,000 fine. 

Neither
Crosby nor Judd answered reporters’ questions outside Thursday’s
arraignment, and neither replied to emailed requests for comment.
English declined to comment as well.