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Rural Arizona county certifies midterm election results after judge's order

CNN  — 

Officials in rural Cochise County, Arizona, on Thursday certified the results of the county’s midterm elections – ending a high-stakes confrontation with state officials over the county’s failure to sign off on election results by the legal deadline.

The 2-0 vote came shortly after a judge ordered the county’s three-member board of supervisors to certify the results by 5 p.m. local time.

Cochise was the last of Arizona’s 15 counties to certify the election. The standoff between Republican officials in the county and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat and the state’s governor-elect, had drawn national attention as a symbol of how deeply misinformation about elections had taken root in pockets of the country since the 2020 election.

The two Republicans on the three-person board had delayed certification over concerns about whether vote-tallying machines had been properly certified. The Secretary of State’s Office said the machines had been tested and certified and argued that the recalcitrant board members were advancing debunked conspiracy theories.

Statewide certification of Arizona’s results is set to take place on Monday.

Peggy Judd, one of the Republican supervisors who initially voted to delay certification, said Thursday that she was “not ashamed of anything I did” but was voting “yes” in response to the court order. She was joined by the lone Democrat on the Cochise Board of Supervisors, its chairwoman Ann English, in certifying results.

English said those who wanted to change how elections are run needed to lobby legislature to change state law. “We react to the legislature,” she said. “We don’t create legislation for the state.”

The third member of the board, Republican Tom Crosby, did not attend the meeting.

Earlier Thursday, Superior Court Judge Casey McGinley told the supervisors that they had a “non-discretionary” duty to carry out the certification.

Hobbs, along with a retirees’ group, had sued to force the board to certify the results. The board’s initial delay risked disenfranchising some 47,000 voters, Hobbs said.

McGinley said whatever concerns supervisors or the public may have about vote-tallying machines were “not a reason to delay the canvass” of the results.

His ruling followed weeks of controversy in this Republican stronghold as the GOP majority on the board sought to register its disapproval of the machines. At one point, the two Republican supervisors on the three-member board pushed, unsuccessfully, to conduct a broad hand count audit of November’s general election results.

Arizona has been a hotbed of election conspiracy theories ever since President Joe Biden flipped the once reliably red state in 2020, becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the Grand Canyon State in nearly a quarter century. Public meetings in Cochise and elsewhere have seen raucous demands that local officials wield their largely ministerial certification functions to upend elections.

Earlier this year, a court ordered certification of primary election results in Otero County, New Mexico, after a local board voted against certification, saying they did not trust tabulation machines.

“On one hand, this a hyper-local issue,” said Ryan Snow, counsel with the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “But on the other hand, it also gets to the heart of what it means to live in a democracy. You need to be able to rely on voting and having that vote count.”

“Since 2020, we’ve had a new battle in the fight for our democracy, which is: After the votes have been tabulated, whether they’re going to be certified,” he added.

During Thursday’s court hearing, Crosby sought to delay the proceedings to allow an attorney the supervisors had hired just hours before the hearing to prepare. The judge denied that request.

English, the board’s chairwoman, implored the judge to force the supervisors to act swiftly. “I’ve had enough,” she said. “I think the public has had enough.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.