The Election Denial Movement’s Misguided Push to Hand-Count Ballots

Election officials across the country are being pressured to use hand counts to confirm election results. With experts having repeatedly warned that hand counts are costly and less accurate than voting machines, the push is yet another way of undermining trust in our democracy.

In advance of the 2024 vote, the election denial movement has unleashed a range of tactics designed to convince voters that U.S. elections are not secure and to pave the way for post-election confusion. One such tactic is the push to abandon electronic voting machines that election-denial activists falsely claim are being rigged and instead to count ballots by hand. 

Election experts warn that hand counts are time-consuming, costly, and less accurate than voting machines. For example, Texas’ Gillespie County Republican Party counted ballots by hand for its March 2024 primary. There were errors in results in nearly every precinct; as of May 14, 2024, the labor costs of the hand count were reportedly on pace to be twice as high as the labor costs of the 2020 primary.

But beyond the high price tag, pushing for hand counts and decrying the use of electronic machines also feeds false claims that our elections are not secure. Belief that electronic tabulations can’t be trusted provide “additional grounds for calling into question the results of elections when there are no valid grounds,” former American Oversight Executive Director Heather Sawyer told the Guardian in April 2024. “There’s no good reason to do it. And there’s lots of room for mischief and problems.”

Hand-count disciples have had the support of prominent election deniers, including those with ties to Trump allies who sought to overturn the 2020 election results. Voting conspiracy theorist and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell is one of the biggest supporters of hand counts, reportedly funding some efforts and featuring hand-count advocates on his various platforms.

Mark Cook, an election denier from Colorado who claims to be an IT expert, has been traversing the country in an RV as part of his “hand count road show,” a series of presentations designed to foment distrust in election results and convince local election officials to adopt hand counts. 

Activists have managed to convince some jurisdictions — typically small or rural areas that overwhelmingly voted for former President Trump in 2020 — to adopt the practice. Records obtained by American Oversight show county commissioners in Pennsylvania’s Butler County met with “election integrity” groups, including Audit the Vote, an organization that has pushed for hand recounts throughout the state.

Local officials in Missouri, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin have elected to hand-count ballots in their midterm or primary elections. In June 2024, voters in three South Dakota counties defeated measures that would bar tabulator machines in future elections, but there remains significant distrust of machines. More than a dozen legislators in the Ohio House have backed a law that would allow counties to hand-count ballots instead of using voting machines. 

Other jurisdictions have embraced hand counts even when doing so led to violations of state law. Ahead of the 2022 midterm election, the board of supervisors of Arizona’s Cochise County voted to hand-count all ballots, a move that was successfully challenged in court. But following the election, two of three members of the board — Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby — refused to certify the results, citing disproven concerns about voting machines and continuing to seek to count the votes by hand

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs sued the board, leading to a court order requiring it to complete the canvass of results. A year later, both Judd and Crosby were indicted by a state grand jury and charged with conspiring to delay the counting of the 2022 votes and interfering with the secretary of state’s ability to complete the statewide canvass. 

In January 2024, American Oversight sued Cochise County for records related to the attempted hand-count audit of ballots. Records we obtained show Crosby and Judd were advocating for ballot hand counts in 2022, despite confusion among constituents and the supervisors themselves about implementation. The documents suggest that even though Crosby and Judd had doubts a hand count could occur, the national attention on the issue led them to keep pushing. 

Similarly, the board of supervisors in California’s Shasta County had voted in early 2023 to end the county’s contract with Dominion Voting Systems, moving instead to count ballots by hand. Later that year, in response, California passed a law that limited the circumstances in which hand counts could be used. We obtained communications in the fall of 2023 between Mike Lindell and Supervisor Kevin Crye,  in which Lindell promised to cover the county’s legal bills, as well as records from the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office that suggested the office was conducting an investigation involving several far-right election-denial groups and activists. And despite the new state law, the Shasta County Elections Committee voted in February 2024 to recommend hand-counting ballots cast in the 2024 election. 

Nevada’s Nye County hand-counted mail ballots in 2022 despite challenges from voting rights groups. We obtained records related to the hand count, including a recount tally sheet and a document entitled “Precinct Hand Count Procedures.” 

Records we obtained also show individuals promoting Mark Cook’s “hand count road show” to county officials in Texas. After Collin County Commissioner Susan Fletcher expressed concerns about hand counts, a member of the conservative Texas First coalition offered Fletcher a meeting with Cook to address her concerns. Other emails we uncovered revealed an official from Brown County forwarded the Texas Association of Counties’ elections listserv an email from a Texas First member offering a demonstration from Cook’s “road show.” 

In Arizona, documents we obtained show how hand count proponents dismissed concerns about the issue. In June 2023, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors approved a measure to consider hand-counting all ballots in the 2024 election. In response, Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes sent a letter to board members outlining his concerns with hand counts. The same day, an individual from the board superintendent’s office forwarded what appears to be the letter to Sonny Borrelli, the Arizona Senate majority leader, and a hand count advocate. “Yes I saw it. HAHAHA,” Borrelli responded

American Oversight has filed dozens of public records requests related to ballot hand counts in states across the country, including Arizona, California, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming.

Related Documents

March 28, 2024

Cochise County, Ariz., Board of Supervisors’ Emails Related to 2022 Hand Count Proposal

Arizona - Cochise County
Agency Record
September 18, 2023

Records Request to Denton County, Texas, for Records Related to the ‘Hand Count Road Show’

Texas - Denton County
September 18, 2023

Records Request to Rowan County, N.C., for Records Related to the ‘Hand Count Road Show’

North Carolina - Rowan County
FOIA Request
September 18, 2023

Records Request to Cass County, Mo., for Records Related to the ‘Hand Count Road Show’

Missouri - Cass County
FOIA Request
September 18, 2023

Records Request to Collin County, Texas, for Records Related to the ‘Hand Count Road Show’

Texas - Collin County
FOIA Request
August 28, 2023

Records Request to Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office for Communications with Anti-Voter Activists and Meeting Records

Wyoming Secretary of State
FOIA Request
August 8, 2023

Records Request to Texas Secretary of State for Communications with Anti-ERIC Groups and Individuals

Texas Secretary of State
FOIA Request
June 8, 2023

Arizona Senate Election Audit Records Previously Held by Cyber Ninjas

Arizona Senate
Agency Record
May 10, 2023

Records Request to Shasta County, Calif., Board of Supervisors for Communications About Cancellation of Dominion Contracts

California - Shasta County
FOIA Request
February 7, 2023

Records Request to Lycoming County, Pa., Seeking Communications with External Entities

Pennsylvania - Lycoming County
FOIA Request
January 26, 2023

Records Request to Virginia Attorney General for Communications of the Election Integrity Unit with Anti-Voter Groups

Virginia Attorney General
FOIA Request
November 22, 2022

Records Request to Nye County, Nev., for Records Related to Hand Count of Ballots Cast in 2022 Midterm Election

Nevada - Nye County
FOIA Request
November 22, 2022

Records Request to Nye County, Nev., for Guidance Documents Related to Post-Election Hand Count of Ballots Cast in 2022 Midterms

Nevada - Nye County
FOIA Request
November 22, 2022

Records Request to Nye County, Nev., for Communications Between Interim County Clerk Mark Kampf and Proponents of the ‘Big Lie’

Nevada - Nye County
FOIA Request
November 16, 2022

Records Request to Cochise County, Ariz., for Records Related to Outside Counsel Retained in Connection with Ballot Hand Count

Arizona - Cochise County
FOIA Request
November 4, 2022

Records Request to Butler County, Pa., Seeking Communications with Audit the Vote PA

Pennsylvania - Butler County
FOIA Request
August 31, 2022

Court Decision: American Oversight v. Arizona Senate — Maricopa County Audit Records

Arizona Senate
Litigation
April 8, 2022

Arizona Senate Records Concerning ‘Audit’ Liaisons

Arizona Senate
Agency Record
March 15, 2022

Records Request to Arizona Senate Seeking Communications with ‘Audit’ Liaisons

Arizona Senate
FOIA Request
February 10, 2022

Request to Texas Secretary of State for Secretary Scott’s Emails with and About Entities That Retained His Services

Texas Secretary of State
FOIA Request
December 16, 2021

Complaint and Court Filings: American Oversight v. Arizona Senate – Maricopa County Audit Records

Arizona Senate
Litigation
November 1, 2021

Arizona Senate Records Regarding Maricopa County Election ‘Audit’

Arizona Senate
Agency Record
September 14, 2021

American Oversight v. Arizona Senate – Arizona Supreme Court Denial of Senate Motion

Arizona Senate
Litigation
August 6, 2021

American Oversight v. Arizona Senate – Denial of Motion to Stay

Arizona Senate
Litigation
August 2, 2021

American Oversight v. Arizona Senate – Court Order to Produce Public Records and Related Minute Entry

Arizona Senate
Litigation
July 19, 2021

American Oversight v. Arizona Senate – Proposed Order to Produce Public Records

Arizona Senate
Litigation
July 15, 2021

Opinion: American Oversight v. Arizona Senate – Denial of Senate’s Motions to Dismiss Lawsuit and to Consolidate

Arizona Senate
Litigation
June 22, 2021

Records Request to Fulton County, Ga., for Board of Commissioners’ and Board of Elections’ Communications with Parties Associated with ‘Stop the Steal’ Movement

Georgia - Fulton County
FOIA Request
June 8, 2021

Arizona Senate Records Regarding Election ‘Audit’

Arizona Senate
Agency Record
May 14, 2021

AZ Sen. Records Released in Response to Request for Records Regarding the Maricopa County Audit

Arizona Senate
Agency Record
May 10, 2021

Records Request to Arizona Senate Seeking Records Regarding the Maricopa County Audit

Arizona Senate
FOIA Request
December 9, 2020

Records Request to Arizona State Senators Seeking Communications Related to Trump Campaign’s ‘Fact-Finding Hearing’ Regarding 2020 Election

Arizona Senate
FOIA Request