Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the Cochise County Supervisors for delegating election duties to Cochise County Recorder David Stevens, an election integrity proponent. However, from the 1950s to 2019, Maricopa County had an agreement with its county recorder to oversee elections. Three other counties delegate those responsibilities to their recorders as well.
Jennifer Wright, who served as the Election Integrity Unit’s civil attorney under previous Attorney General Mark Brnovich, tweeted, “So, will @krismayes also be suing @maricopacounty for their MOU delegating BOS responsibilities to the CR? Anyone remember when Fontes was stripped of BOS delegated responsibilities, the press lamented how elections were 100% the CR’s job? Oh, the hypocrisy. #AbuseOfPower”
Wright added in another tweet, “Why has @krismayes targeted Cochise when several county BOS have delegated election-related statutory responsibilities to recorders? 🤔Could it be that Mayes is abusing the powers of Attorney General to attack her political ‘enemies’?”
Mayes initially sent the board a letter asking “serious questions” about the move and hinting at a lawsuit. Mayes said in her case that the transfer “threatens the lawful administration and operation of elections” and “the residents of Cochise County may be deprived of the full transparency.” She alleged that only the legislature can authorize transferring duties.
The agreement with the Cochise County Recorder’s office retains considerable oversight by the board, requiring approval for various actions taken by the recorder. But Mayes’ complaint refuses to give the language any weight, asserting that the language is “a mere formality” and requiring board approval is “a rubber stamp.” Even though the agreement states that both parties “acknowledge that neither … may abdicate its statutory responsibilities to the other,” Mayes claims they’re doing that.
Much of the complaint consists of broad, sweeping statements declaring the transfer illegal and criticism of the board’s previous actions attempting to conduct a hand count of the 2022 midterm election, then delaying certification of the results.
Wright explained the history of this delegation in other counties.
“Since the ’50s, Maricopa County BOS maintained an agreement w/the Recorder, handing over responsibility & “essentially giving the recorder full control over elections.” In ’19, 3 other counties operated with the elections dept reporting to the recorder,” she wrote.
In 2019, the Maricopa County Supervisors took some control over elections back from then-Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes. The Arizona Republic hinted that it was because of election mishaps during Fontes’ tenure. Fontes mass-mailed ballots to voters who didn’t request them, causing Brnovich to take him to court to stop him. The failed attempt cost taxpayers $100,000.
The Kari Lake War Room Twitter account responded to Wright, “Do you guys think it’s because she’s not a lawyer and has no idea how any of this works? So her only plan of attack is just to attack?”
There are questions about whether Mayes has ever practiced law. During a debate with her Republican opponent Abe Hamadeh, Hamadeh accused Mayes of having zero experience practicing law. Mayes said she gained prosecutor experience while serving on the Arizona Corporation Commission. However, Arizona Corporation Commissioner Jim O’Connor told The Arizona Sun Times that the job does not involve prosecution. Commissioners are not required to have law degrees, and the State Bar of Arizona prohibits the unauthorized practice of law by non-licensed attorneys.
Wright replied to the Kari Lake War Room account, “The funny part is she is opening up all similarly situated counties to identical lawsuits brought by taxpayers. I vote we start with Maricopa.”
Lisa Marra, the former Cochise County Elections director, resigned from her post earlier this year, citing a hostile working environment after she refused to turn over ballots for a full hand count when the board requested them. Marra just took a position as assistant state elections director under Fontes. Stevens said he intends to hire someone to run elections under him.
However, Mayes’ lawsuit asks the court to block Stevens from making any elections-related payments, which would prevent him from hiring an election director. Since an election is coming up on May 16 to consider a jail tax, the board held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss what to do. County Attorney Brian McIntyre took a hostile position toward the board’s attempt to conduct a hand count of ballots and postpone certifying the election, refusing to represent them. Under fire for a DUI in late January, he may decline to represent them again.
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Rachel Alexander is a reporter at The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Rachel on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Kris Mayes” by Kris Mayes.