(CN) — Arizona House Republicans voted to pass a bill Wednesday that would allow an avenue for county-based audits of elections for residents or entities who could front the costs.
Senate Bill 1259 would compel counties to initiate an audit and furnish an estimate of costs based on the request of state officials or private residents. Arizona residents at large would have to file a petition in superior court to initiate the recount.
Republicans argued any increase in transparency is a welcomed change.
Representative Sarah Liguori, a Democrat from Phoenix, argued the recount for individuals or residents would come at a cost, which she says could favor the wealthy or special interests.
"If I am wealthy and I'm angry, I can demand a recount somewhere. I can afford it, but someone else, if it's cost-prohibitive, you know, might not be able to," Liguori said to the House Government and Elections Committee on Wednesday. "So does it skew to high-income earners or people with more means to be able to facilitate this process, and then go, you know, district to district and county by county demanding recounts because they have the means to pay for it?"
Jen Marson of the Arizona Association of Counties told the committee that a fee schedule has not been created yet despite four months of coordination and planning with the Legislature.
"Not to get too conspiratorial, but what if a George Soros or a Koch brothers came in and started paying for recounts across counties and election races if they didn't like the outcomes?" Liguori asked. "I'm going to vote no."
George Soros is a left-wing billionaire philanthropist who had invested millions in political advocacy groups in the U.S. and abroad. Most notably he’s come under scrutiny by GOP influencers for his alleged ties to funding advocacy in Ukraine.
The Koch brothers or family are conservative donors who back Republican political and climate change denial causes. They control Koch Industries, an oil and gas-based company and the largest privately-owned company in the United States.
The top Democrat in the Arizona House, state Representative Reginald Bolding, a Democrat from Phoenix, echoed Liguori's concerns about the financing and alluded to how it could create a new political battleground. Bolding suggested financiers could unheedingly burden county workers whose focus should be on administration rather than politically motivated recounts.
"I would hate to subject our county officials to have their staff consistently working on recount after recount when they can actually be performing other functions to the county," Bolding said, explaining his no vote. "Again, this process allows essentially an unlimited number of recounts."
The Pew Center on the States estimated the cost for the 2004 recount in the Washington state gubernatorial race at $1.16 million. For Minnesota's 2008 U.S. Senate recount, it was $460,000.
According to The Pew Center, neither Minnesota nor Washington had laws governing reimbursement or a cost formula, leaving the localities to absorb most costs. Senate Bill 1259 would circumvent that issue, as the county would approve the recount or audit costs.
The attorney general, secretary of state or state Legislature are the only state entities that could request a recount. If they did, they would use state money to finance the audit.
There is no stipulation to address cost variance if the county estimated incorrectly.
Cyber Ninjas, a company contracted by the Arizona State Senate to conduct an election audit following the 2020 presidential election of Joe Biden, received $5.7 million in donations from GOP nonprofits and fundraising groups.
Cyber Ninjas found Biden was lawfully elected but identified what it considered to be 53,304 questionable ballots. Maricopa County investigated the authenticity of those ballots and found this month that only 37 may have been illegally cast.
The bill would essentially eliminate private firms in audits, as the counties would have the legal obligation to conduct it.
The House Government and Elections Committee passed the bill in its second read on party lines, 7 to 6.
The bill has already passed the Arizona Senate and will move to its third and final read of the Legislature before it reaches Republican Governor Doug Ducey's desk for consideration.
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