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Is Maricopa County's tabulator error Katie Hobbs' fault? Officials say that's not how Arizona's elections work

Hobbs is Arizona's top election official, but each county is responsible for its own elections.

ARIZONA, USA — Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is currently the state's top elections official while also running for governor.

It's confusing. Also confusing: A group of Republicans has been calling for Hobbs to recuse herself from being the state's top election official while running in the election. 

This all collided on Election Day in Arizona, fueled by problems with tabulator machines in Maricopa County, where 60% of Arizona's population lives. 

RELATED: Problems reported in about 20% of Maricopa County polling places

Numerous high-profile Republicans sent posts claiming that the tabulator errors were Hobbs' fault. But is that true?

The claim:

Is Katie Hobbs in charge of checking whether Maricopa County's election equipment is working?

Our sources:

  • Arizona state statute
  • Arizona Citizens Clean Election Commission

The answer:

No, Hobbs is not in charge of checking Maricopa County's election equipment. Under Arizona's "decentralized" election systems, each county is in charge of running the elections in its jurisdiction, not the secretary of state's office.

What we found:

Texas Senator Ted Cruz tweeted that Hobbs was in charge of the election and implied that the tabulator issues were her fault.

Katie Hobbs is, in fact, the state's chief election officer. However, Arizona's election system works a bit differently than most.

Arizona has a "decentralized" election system, meaning that rather than the state holding authority over the entire election process, each of the state's 15 counties are responsible for conducting the elections held in their jurisdiction, according to Arizona Citizens Clean Election Commission.

The secretary of state's (SOS) Office "is responsible for certifying state election results, serves as the filing officer for federal, statewide and legislative candidates and statewide ballot measures," the commission said on its website. 

"The SOS is responsible for the Elections Procedures Manual, which details the procedures elections officials must follow to ensure election practices are consistent and efficient throughout the state."

Additionally, the only thing the secretary of state's office is required to do regarding elections under Arizona state statute is "certify to the governor the names of those persons who have received at any election the highest number of votes for any office."

It's correct to say that Hobbs oversees Arizona's elections, but she isn't in charge of them. The administration of the election comes down to the county level, specifically the county's recorder's office.

“Sec of State’s office does test the tabulation equipment prior to the election to ensure that it is tabulating correctly and reading ballots," Assistant Secretary of State Allie Bones told 12News. "So we do look for that functionality. However, this [tabulation issue] was an intermittent issue and it’s possible that the ballot of demand ballots that we tested, we do test a small batch of ballots, either went through the central count tabulators or were not part of this intermittent issue that these vote center tabulators were seeing.”

Mark Finchem, himself a current candidate for secretary of state, also tweeted that the tabulation machines being used by Maricopa County were purchased by Hobbs.

This is also false.

The new election equipment, including the new tabulators, that Maricopa County is using this election was obtained by the county's board of supervisors after the equipment subpoenaed for the Arizona Senate GOP's recount of the county's 2020 election was not certified by the secretary of state's office.

“Our highest priority is conducting secure and accurate elections,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers, District 1 in a 2021 release. “This [purchase] ensures we have the equipment to do so moving forward.”

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Maricopa County set to receive new tabulation equipment for upcoming elections

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