Votebeat is a nonprofit news organization reporting on voting access and election administration across the U.S. Sign up for our free newsletters here.
Update: Cochise County has now hired Bob Bartelsmeyer as elections director. Republican county supervisors said they were not concerned that Bartelsmeyer shared posts falsely claiming the 2020 presidential vote was rigged.
Cochise County is close to hiring an elections director who has repeatedly shared false claims about widespread election fraud on Facebook, including claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against former President Donald Trump.
Bob Bartelsmeyer, currently the elections director in La Paz County, was chosen by Cochise County Recorder David Stevens for the spot. The county supervisors are set to appoint him at their Tuesday meeting, according to a meeting agenda posted on the county website.
“Please join me by posting ‘Trump legally won by landslide’” one post shared by Bartelsmeyer in December 2020 said. “REVEALED: ‘Simple Math’ Shows Biden Claims 13 MILLION More Votes Than There Were Eligible Voters Who Voted in 2020,” read another.
In Cochise, Bartelsmeyer would be working for a southern Arizona county where the Republican-controlled Board of Supervisors is considering GOP-backed changes to the county’s elections. Proposals include pursuing a potential plan to get rid of the county’s vote-counting machines because of false claims of vote switching that are similar to those shared by Bartelsmeyer in 2020.
Supervisor Ann English, the lone Democrat on the board, told Votebeat she was concerned that hiring Bartelsmeyer would mean no one would stand in the supervisors’ or Stevens’ way if they attempted to move forward with concerning changes to elections.
“It certainly is scary for me to think about someone coming in to take over an elections system that hasn’t had any problems, with an attitude that elections in the past haven’t been fair,” English said.
In hiring Bartelsmeyer, the county would also be choosing someone with decades of experience administering elections. Prior to his hiring in La Paz — a rural county in western Arizona — a year ago, Bartelsmeyer said he ran or worked in elections in Mohave County and counties in Missouri, Florida, and New Mexico.
Earlier this year the Cochise supervisors gave Stevens, the Republican recorder who also has doubts about the security of elections, more control of them, including oversight of the elections director position. That was after they illegally attempted to block the certification of Cochise County’s November election and tried to move forward with a plan to illegally hand-count all ballots,
The position is open after longtime elections director Lisa Marra resigned in January, claiming she was maligned and harassed after refusing to move forward with the illegal hand-count plan. The supervisors had planned to move control of elections to Stevens even before Marra left.
Asked on Monday if he supported the supervisors’ attempts to illegally hand-count all ballots and not certify the election, Bartelsmeyer indicated he did not.
“I believe that you must follow state statutes and the elections procedure manual with regard to elections,” he wrote in an email.
Asked how his support for false claims about election fraud in the 2020 election would affect how he runs elections, Bartelsmeyer wrote that in 2020, he was a “private citizen and was at liberty to express my beliefs from sources within the campaign at that time especially with mail in ballots.”
But, he went on to say, that was no longer true. “As an Elections Director, a person cannot express their personal opinions with any campaign as one must be neutral and bipartisan,” he wrote. “My mission is to provide outstanding voter services with integrity, transparency and accuracy in Cochise County.”
Nonetheless, he has shared his opinion publicly during his tenure in La Paz. On Oct. 27, a few weeks before the Nov. 8 election, Bartelsmeyer shared a Breitbart post saying that GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake was polling ahead of her Democratic opponent, adding, ‘You go girl!!’ with a thumbs-up emoji.
From 2016 to 2021, he posted numerous posts in support of Trump, though it’s unclear from publicly available information what position he held at that time if any. He didn’t respond to a follow-up question asking if he still supports Trump, who is running for president again in 2024.
English said Tuesday afternoon that she hadn’t been given any information about Bartelsmeyer’s background in advance of the Tuesday meeting. Republican Supervisor Peggy Judd said that she had received all the information she thought was pertinent to know before the vote, and she planned to support his hiring.
She said that his position on the 2020 election was “valid” and she believes he can still be impartial in his role despite his views. She pointed out that Marra publicly shared political opinions and said she didn’t believe this to be any different.
“I think he is going to be fine,” she said.
Stevens has told Votebeat that he does not believe ballot tabulation machines are secure and he believes the county should have a conversation about whether hand-counting ballots would be best. He did not respond to questions Monday about his recommendation to hire Bartelsmeyer.
The original posting for the elections director job asked applicants to identify their political affiliation, according to a story in the Sierra Vista Herald. County officials said at the time that they had misunderstood state law and thought this was required, and said they would remove the question.
For his part, Bartelsmeyer told Votebeat he believes tabulation machines “are 99.9% accurate.” He said counties should follow state law on hand-counting a percentage of ballots after the election.
But in his 2020 posts, Bartelsmeyer spread false claims about Dominion Voting Systems, a manufacturer of election equipment, and other false claims from former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell about widespread voter fraud in six swing states. One quote he shared falsely said that instances of fraudulent voting that occurred in 2020 were “treasonous.”
Many of his posts were marked by Facebook as misinformation, with a disclaimer added to some posts reminding readers that “election officials have strict rules when it comes to ballot counting, handling and reporting.”
“We must demand election integrity and transparency in the 2020 election for America to survive as a democracy and for the America we know and love!!,” Bartelsmeyer wrote in a Dec. 6, 2020 post.
Most of Bartelsmeyer’s experience was from his 23 years as county clerk in Lawrence County, Missouri, according to a story in the Parker Pioneer, a La Paz County news outlet. In 2010, he abruptly left a spot as elections supervisor in Doña Ana County, New Mexico, after holding the position for less than a year, according to a story in the local newspaper.
When hired in La Paz, a rural county in western Arizona with about 11,000 registered voters, Bartelsmeyer told the Parker Pioneer that the county already had ways to ensure that its elections were transparent and secure and “has done a fine job of conducting elections.”
He would have a much larger population to serve in Cochise County, which had about 77,000 registered voters as of November. He told Votebeat that he wants the job because he is “looking for a new challenge with a serious effort to be a team player in the face of challenges with a larger jurisdiction.”
“I want to make a difference and make a significant contribution to the Cochise County Elections Department,” he wrote.
Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who has prominently supported the way elections are run in Arizona, declined to comment on Bartelsmeyer’s past Facebook posts. Fontes’ office provides support to elections directors as they run their counties’ elections.
At least six of Arizona’s 15 counties have seen election directors leave recently, and Fontes has attributed the high turnover directly to the attacks and harassment the directors have faced because of election misinformation, such as the kind spread by Bartelsmeyer.
When Marra resigned, Fontes went on national television and spoke about her resignation and others, calling them an emergency because of the loss of experience.
“We need to end this nonsense,” Fontes said at the time. “But we need to do it with vigor and with strength because I think that is the only language that these terrorists are going to pay attention to.”
Jen Fifield is a reporter for Votebeat based in Arizona. Contact Jen at firstname.lastname@example.org.