PHOENIX - A state lawmaker who represents Scottsdale has a proposal to end the debate over whether humans are better than machines at counting ballots.
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, wants to put them both to the test.
He said he believes that a head-to-head contest will prove that hand counting can both be accurate and produce timely results.
Count Maricopa County Recorder Steve Richer among those who like the idea.
Richer has defended the county election process for years, and he said he believes the “man-versus-machine test” will prove what he has been saying all along - machine counts are accurate.
“This legislation will build confidence in our election system by showing that machine tabulation is highly accurate, free of bias and fast,” Richer said. “Thanks to Senator Kavanagh for this good idea.”
Kavanagh said the machines that some say can be hacked and can produce inaccurate results - allegations never proven - can be scrapped to help restore voter confidence if issues are found.
But he conceded it is, at this point, only a theory.
The only example Arizona has was the "audit'' of two of the contests in the 2020 election in Maricopa County. And that took months and failed to show any significant different between the hand count and the official tally.
Kavanagh’s SB 1471 comes amid claims by some, including failed Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake, that machine counting is inherently suspect and susceptible to fraud and hacking.
She and Mark Finchem, who ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state, are still trying to have the procedure declared illegal despite a federal court ruling against them.
What Kavanagh is proposing is selecting four precincts at random and taking 100 ballots from each.
The actual ballots would be put through a tabulator, with the results of all the races - there can be more than 80 given statewide, congressional, legislative, judicial and local races, plus special districts and ballot measures - initially kept confidential.
Duplicate ballots would be made and given to volunteers. They would have to conduct the hand count the same way counties are now required to conduct hand counts of a few races in a few precincts: teams of volunteers composed of at least one person from two of the state's three recognized political parties.
Under the terms of SB 1417, if the numbers come out within 0.1% of each other, that ends that part of the test. If not, both halves are rerun using different tabulators and different hand counters.
But that's just half the issue.
The local recorder would be required then to figure out the average number of ballots counted for each counting team. That number would be extrapolated out to determine how many people working 16-hour days would be required to hand count the nearly 2.6 million ballots cast in the last general election.
"The main argument against doing hand counts is that they're inaccurate and would take too long,'' Kavanagh said.
"So, the purpose of this is to have a very controlled experiment,'' he said, to measure not just accuracy but also the time it would take to implement this on a statewide basis.
As crafted, the test mandated in SB 1471 would occur in Maricopa County. But that now is uncertain.
"I may need to relocate this,'' Kavanagh said. And the reason, he said, is Richer's comments that he believes the test will show that hand counting is inferior.
"So, he's immediately biased his county for counting,'' Kavanagh said. "The results can be challenged because his counters were biased because he had a position.''
Richer, for his part, said he's not hoping for a specific outcome. But he conceded to Capitol Media Services he thinks he knows what the test will show, regardless of in which county it is conducted.
"Unless 50 years of social science is wrong, then it will show that machines are far more accurate, far faster, far less biased when it comes to repetitive tasks,'' he said.