GOP Sen. J.D. Mesnard Welcomes Arizona Election Recounts If Those Asking Will Pay For It

By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Published: Friday, December 18, 2020 - 12:43pm
Updated: Friday, December 18, 2020 - 2:47pm
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
J.D. Mesnard

Political candidates and their supporters unhappy with the outcome of an Arizona election could get a chance to try to overturn the results, but they'd have to be willing to put their money where their mouth is.

The proposal by Sen. J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler) would permit any individual to demand a recount of any race in any county or statewide. The only requirement would be that they provide the dollars to cover the costs.

Mesnard conceded that even if SB 1010 is enacted it won't necessarily quell all doubts and complaints about election returns. But he called it an "effective component'' of restoring confidence in the electoral system.

Not everyone sees it that way.

"It's unnecessary and stupid,'' said outgoing Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes. He said all Mesnard is doing is catering to the complaints — none of which have so far been proven in court — that there was something wrong with the results reported in the presidential race.

And the problem, Fontes said, is even more basic than that. He said a hand recount, which is one of the options under Mesnard's proposal, would take weeks to conduct.

Arizona law now requires a recount only when the margin of difference between the candidates is within a certain margin.

So, for example, in a statewide race the loser would have to come within 200 votes. Ditto in the case of a statewide ballot measure.

That is nowhere near the 10,457 edge in the official tally of Joe Biden over Donald Trump.

For other races, the spread between candidates has to be even smaller: 50 for legislative seats and just 10 for local elections.

Mesnard's proposal would allow any person to seek a recount when one is not automatic. SB 1010 would require a posting of a bond with a court "in a form and in an amount as determined by the court to be sufficient to provide for full reimbursement of the costs of conducting the recount.''

Mesnard said he wants to be sure "the taxpayers aren't on the hook.''

That could be a substantial figure depending on the kind of recount sought. The recounts that now occur automatically under state law are done by putting the ballots into an automated counting machine. That is a relatively simple procedure, one that might take about a week on a statewide basis.

But Mesnard's legislation would permit the person seeking the recount to request it be done by hand, so long as the person is willing to pay the additional costs involved. And that would depend on how many ballots — and how many counties — are involved.

"This is about instilling confidence in the election system, the results in particular in this case,'' Mesnard told Capitol Media Services. "And I'd much rather err on the side of greater counting than not.''

Fontes, a Democrat who lost his own reelection campaign, said what Mesnard wants is the wrong cure for the problem.

"There's better ways to instill confidence,'' he said. "For example, getting his people to stop denying the outcome of the election.''

There already is a procedure in place for what might be called an automatic mini-recount. It requires having officials from both parties select ballots from 2% of the precincts or voting centers, pick certain races and then have those ballots counted by hand by party workers.

In Maricopa County that involved more than 47,000 ballots. And Fontes said that in each case the results were found to be 100% consistent with the machine count.

Fontes said that hand count took close to a day. Extrapolate that out over more than two million ballots in Maricopa County -- the kind of thing that SB 1010 would permit -- and a hand count would take more than a month, meaning the results would not be known and finalized until after the current date in state law to certify the returns.

"What he's asking for is injecting more doubt, more uncertainty, take longer to figure these things out instead of standing up to the people who are actually wrong,'' Fontes said.

So will a recount satisfy those who continue to insist there were improprieties with the just-conducted election?

"Well, I think we need to do everything we can to try,'' Mesnard said. And he said this is about more than just a few folks trying to cast doubt on how the vote was conducted and counted.

"I would say hundreds of thousands of people in the state believe something was wrong with the election,'' Mesnard said.

Why they believe that — and even the veracity of their beliefs — is irrelevant, he said.

"Whether you agree with them or not or think it's conspiracy theories or sore loser or legitimate fraud or irregularity is somewhat immaterial,'' Mesnard said. The fact remains that, for whatever reason, they don't trust the results. "And that is an existential threat to the democratic electoral process we must confront,'' he said.

"We cannot dismiss it,'' Mesnard continued. "It's irresponsible to dismiss it, even if you think they're wrong.''

Still, Mesnard conceded, even allowing for a full hand count is unlikely to satisfy all doubters.

"Is there a silver bullet? I don't know,'' Mesnard said. "But I think this is an effective component of that.''

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that Arizona is one of only nine states that do not have a process in place to let people request a recount. But even in some of the states that do permit such demanded recounts there are some constraints.

For example, in Georgia a losing candidate may seek a recount only when the results are within 0.5% of the total votes cast for the office.

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