SB 1471 would create a man vs. machine test for Maricopa County vote tabulators

By Ben Giles, Lauren Gilger
Published: Thursday, February 2, 2023 - 12:56pm

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An elections worker runs ballots through vote-counting machines
Drake Presto/Cronkite News
An elections worker runs ballots through vote-counting machines at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center on Nov. 10, 2022.

Republicans at the state Capitol have lots of ideas that could dramatically change elections in Arizona — from banning all unmonitored ballot drop boxes to a complete ban on voting by mail.

Most of those ideas, even if they’re adopted by a Republican-controlled Legislature, won’t get past Arizona’s new Democratic governor, Katie Hobbs. But there’s at least one bill that might have a shot.

SB 1471 is not a change to the election process but sort of a test: man vs. machine.

It would require Maricopa County alone to select four voting precincts, select 100 ballots from each of those precincts and then recount every race on each of those ballots, by hand and by machine. Then the bill requires the county to compare the difference in the count and see which was more accurate.

But why just Maricopa County? The county is the bane of most election deniers and conspiracy theorists in the state of Arizona, and probably some nationally too. It has been at the center of conspiracy theories thanks to the so-called audit of the 2020 election conducted by state Senate Republicans nearly two years ago.

Many losing candidates, like gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake, have zeroed in on Maricopa County as the source of non-existent election fraud.

And it’s the biggest and therefore most consequential county to statewide candidates in all of Arizona.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer supports the bill, even though this kind of test was not on the long list of election changes he suggested. Richer sees this as a put up or shut up moment for those that doubt the accuracy and reliability of vote counting machines, sometimes referred to as tabulators.

Richer thinks the “man vs. machine” contest will prove a couple of things: that vote counting machines are highly accurate and free of bias, but also fast. Not only is the bill a test of accuracy, but it’s also written to gauge how long a hand count of ballots would take.

The plan is to time how long it takes to hand count those 400 ballots and then do the math to figure out how long it would take to count all the ballots cast in the November 2022 election. The result — likely weeks, not days — would expose the folly of those who are demanding hand counts of ballots. Many of those same people also demand to have results on election night.

While the bill might not be enough to silence election deniers, it would give folks like Richer something concrete to point to in the never-ending debate over voting equipment.

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