A rural Arizona county whose local officials have embraced election denialism appointed a new director Tuesday to lead the county’s elections who has previously cast doubt on election results.
Cochise county, a border county where two Republican supervisors have pushed for a hand count of ballots and previously refused to certify the 2022 election results, chose to hire Bob Bartelsmeyer, an elections director who has shared social media posts with debunked election fraud claims. The county supervisors approved him in a 2-1 vote with the two Republican supervisors voting in favor, while the Democratic supervisor voted against him.
Bartelsmeyer, previously the elections director in smaller La Paz county, Arizona, posted multiple times on his Facebook page about the 2020 election, making false claims about Trump’s loss, widespread fraud and Dominion voting machines, according to reporting by Votebeat.
One post he shared from 2020 said: “Please join me by posting: Trump legally won in a landslide.” He posted multiple times about then Trump attorney Sidney Powell’s lawsuits over the 2020 election. He also posted an image with a quote about how election fraud is “treason”.
Before he came to La Paz county, Bartelsmeyer served as a county clerk in Missouri and held elections-related roles in Arizona, Florida and New Mexico, according to the Parker Pioneer.
In comments to the supervisors at a public meeting Tuesday, Bartelsmeyer tried to distance himself from his social media posts, saying they had been “distorted” by the media and that he was a private citizen, not overseeing elections, at the time he posted them.
He defended his experience in elections and said he had the “utmost respect” for former Cochise county elections director Lisa Marra. He said La Paz county administrators gave him high marks in his year as elections director and he was ready to serve a larger county like Cochise. He said he is in favor of machine counting, which he called “99.9% accurate,” and hand-counting a percentage of ballots to compare to machine results.
“I want to be honest and fair in every election,” Bartelsmeyer said. “Do you think that there is a perfect election? No. There is never a perfect election because you deal with human error.”
While many election deniers in high-profile races in Arizona and other swing states lost their bids for office last year, there are still people in positions of power, from local officials to statewide officeholders, throughout the US who believe there is widespread fraud that’s led to stolen elections, despite a lack of evidence.
In several counties in swing states, Republicans who believe fraud claims have taken over local boards or roles in charge of elections, giving more prominent voices to these claims. In Spalding county, Georgia, Republicans gained control of the elections board and canceled Sunday voting in 2021. In a small town in Michigan, a clerk who allegedly stole election equipment to try to prove fraud has become both a hero to election deniers and the subject of a recall attempt. And in one Virginia county, the entire elections staff recently quit their jobs after Republicans took over the local elections board and started pushing fraud claims.
In a handful of GOP states, election-denying secretaries of state won their races in 2022.
The appointment of Cochise’s new director comes after the supervisors voted to give more authority to the county recorder, David Stevens, who supported proposals to eliminate the use of tabulators and instead hand-count all ballots. Stevens, who has himself questioned election results, will oversee Bartelsmeyer. Before Bartelsmeyer’s hiring, Stevens held dual roles as recorder and interim elections director after Marra, who had defended the county’s elections as fair and accurate, left her job because of “outrageous conduct and objectively difficult and unpleasant working conditions”.
Arizona counties divide election duties between an elected recorder and appointed elections director. The Democratic attorney general, Kris Mayes, sued Cochise county over the decision to give Stevens more power, but a judge ruled against Mayes’ office on the issue.
For some in Cochise county, an elections director who has floated false claims of fraud fulfills their fears that there won’t be anyone to stand up to the supervisors if they attempt hand counts that violate state law or other election changes in the future.
The widespread election denialism in the county has caused a schism in the rural community. Opponents of the two Republican supervisors fear they could see more attempts to derail the vote there in 2024.
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