Rural Arizona county certifies midterm results after judge orders vote

<span>Photograph: Cheney Orr/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Cheney Orr/Reuters

A rural Arizona county finally certified its election results on Thursday after a judge ordered the county’s board of supervisors to do their jobs just a couple of hours earlier.

The Cochise county board of supervisors voted 2-0 to approve the midterm results, allowing the statewide canvass of the election to continue as planned on 5 December. A third member of the board who had spearheaded the effort to delay certification, Tom Crosby, did not attend the vote.

Related: Obama heads to Georgia as Herschel Walker faces new violence claim

Supervisor Peggy Judd, who initially voted to delay the certification, later voted in favor after the court order.

“I am not ashamed of anything I did,” Judd said during Thursday’s certification vote. “And today … because of a court ruling, and because of my own health and situations that are going on in our life, I feel like I must follow what the judge did today or asked us to do, but I feel I don’t like to be threatened.”

After the county refused to certify by the 28 November deadline set by state law, it faced lawsuits from the Arizona secretary of state and the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans. The lawsuits were heard in court on Thursday, with Pima county superior court judge Casey McGinley swiftly ruling that the board was required to canvass its results by that afternoon. McGinley said there was no legal basis for the board to delay or refuse to certify.

The county attorney would not represent the two supervisors who voted against certifying the election, and neither would an outside attorney the board first wanted to help. Instead, an attorney was only named earlier on Thursday and did not make it to the court hearing, leaving the sued supervisors without legal representation. While Crosby wanted to continue the hearing to allow the new lawyer to get to know the case, McGinley said it would move forward immediately.

A delay of the statewide certification process held huge potential consequences: two statewide recounts, required by law, could not start until the canvass was complete. Lawsuits from candidates and other groups cannot begin without official results. Voters in the county could be disenfranchised if their votes were not included in statewide totals. The continuity of state government itself may have been in danger, the secretary of state’s office warned.

Ann English, the chair of the board and its lone Democrat, has repeatedly voted for certifying the election and against previous efforts by her colleagues to conduct a full hand count of ballots, later declared unlawful. During Thursday’s certification, she said she hoped the people pushing for not certifying realize “there’s a place for change in the legislation, and it isn’t here – we react to the legislation, we don’t create legislation for the state”.

Related: ‘Extremists didn’t make it’: why Republicans flopped in once-red Arizona

Although the lawsuits were successful in getting the county to do its election duties, others want to see the two supervisors face criminal charges for flouting election law. One state law says a person charged with any election-related duty who refuses to perform that duty in violation of law is guilty of a class-six felony.

Terry Goddard, a former Arizona attorney general, and Rick Romley, a former Maricopa county attorney, wrote a letter to the current attorney general, Mark Brnovich, and the Cochise county attorney, Brian McIntyre, asking them to investigate and consider criminal charges for Crosby and Judd. McIntyre has said he was weighing whether to bring charges.

“Failing to hold supervisors Crosby and Judd accountable for their violations of law could embolden other public officials to abandon their legal duties in future elections,” Goddard and Romley wrote. “This would pose a substantial threat to election administration in Arizona.”