439 Ballots Appear Out of Nowhere during 2004 Republican Primary State Senate Recount; Incident Explodes into Bizarre Public Spectacle of Alleged Election Fraud, Failed Electronic Voting Machines and Elected State Officials All Twisting in the Wind...
What are Election Officials in Maricopa County, AZ Hiding and Why Will They Not Allow the Inspection of Ballots Stored (illegally and mysteriously) in an Unguarded, Non-Air Conditioned Cement Blockhouse Near the Airport?
By Brad Friedman on 1/20/2006, 10:35am PT  

Election Reform advocates have been turning out in droves at several recent public hearings in State Senates around the country. This week, official hearings were held in both California and Arizona concerning the unparralleled mess in which each state now finds itself in regards to Elections and Electronic Voting.

We'll cover the hearings in California shortly, where, as in Arizona, Election Reform advocates (read: citizens who have little to gain other than hope for the ultimate restoration of integrity to this nation's democracy) filled the galleries to capacity in order to witness the astonishing spectacle of public election officials sputtering, spewing and admitting to all in attendance that they haven't a clue how to manage the mess that is referred to as "democracy" in America.

On a side note: One can't help but wonder if we'd even be in the predicament today were it not for the complete abdication of duty by the mainstream media, who has ignored every facet of this issue beyond cursory and insulting smears dismissing such fundamental questions as little more than "conspiracy theory". There is no longer any doubt that those of us who understood the issues at stake here, long ago, were 100% right about it. As well, those who marginalized and dismissed us and the matter were 100% wrong. In the bargain, their delinquency in reporting on these matters in any substantial way has resulted in an unprecedented crisis of confidence in our democracy by the electorate. Such a crisis threatens our way of governance in ways that Osama bin Laden could never have conceived, much less found a way to cause himself.

Anyway, on to the most recent revealing and remarkable chapter in Arizona's Shameful Republican vs. Republican Primary Electoral Fraud Circus, in Maricopa County's Legislative District 20...

As we reported on this story last October, it all began after the September 7, 2004 primary election contest between two Republicans running to represent Maricopa County, Arizona's Legislative District 20 in the statehouse.

Candidate Anton Orlich was a scant 4 votes ahead of challenger John McComish after the initial count on Election Night. But later, after a recount was held on September 21, 2004, McComish ended up 13 votes ahead of Orlich after 489 new votes mysteriously appeared in the totals.

The mystery of those extra votes --- where they came from, and why Rebublican Maricopa County election officials have turned backflips to keep anyone from examining those ballots and the electronic tabulation machines used to scan them --- has unleashed a full-blown media and political uproar in Arizona.

Furthermore, incredible hearings held on this matter yesterday --- co-chaired by a Republican State Senator --- have revealed that the ballots in question are now being stored in an unguarded cement blockhouse somewhere near the airport, instead of in the County Treasurer's climate-controlled vault as is required by law.

You'll have to do some clicking-through on your own to pull together all of the pieces to this extraordinary story, but we'll try to give you the pointers you need to do just that.

The Phoenix New Times' John Dougherty has been all over this story with excellent coverage. We'll refer you to one of his initial articles, "Pandora's Box - Is Arizona's Speaker of the House afraid of what might happen if the truth is learned about a local election?", which covers earlier attempts to squash a State Senate investigation into the matter by Republican State Senator Jack Harper. The Speaker of the AZ House, Jim Weiers, reportedly offered Harper a job with the State Republican Party in exchange for Harper dropping his announced investigation. Harper wouldn't do it, reportedly telling the New Times, "Well, I'll just say to you that I can't be bought off or intimidated."

With a few too many twists and turns to adequately describe here, the investigation moved forward, even as Maricopa County Election Officials and their County Attorney stonewalled, and AZ House Speaker Weiers tried to keep the state from picking up the tab for an independent expert to examine the accuracy (or remarkable inaccuracy, as the case turned out) of the electronic tabulation machines used in both the initial count and the recount that followed.

That election expert, Dr. Douglas Jones, was eventually brought in, but his travel tab was picked up by the New Times after the state refused to do so. That part of the tale, which caused its own media uproar, is covered here by New Times' Rick Barrs.

Jones' eventual findings were stunning, and recently reported in-depth by Dougherty. Jones found electronic ballot tabulation machines completely out of calibration, resulting in the same ballots being counted differently, as they were variously set as either too sensitive or not sensitive enough. As well, the instructions given to voters by elections officials concerning which types of pens that absentee voters should use to mark ballots were completely misleading. The very pens they advised against (glitter pens for example) were often picked up more accurately by the machines than those which they had advised voters to use (pencil or black marker). Similarly, tiny specks of lead from a pencil, errantly left on a ballot, would be seen by some of the optical scanning machines as votes, leading to possible spoiled ballots recorded as "overvotes" by the inaccurate scanners.

Jones' conclusion, as reported by New Times, was that "'These problems suggest a systemic problem with election administration' in Maricopa County and a failure by the state to properly oversee the county's handling of elections."

Further, Jones advises that the only way to determine what happened in the LD20 election, beyond his determination that the vote-tabulation machinery was a disaster, is "Someone should take a look at the real ballots."

And that's just about where our story picks up, with yesterday's packed hearing co-chaired by Harper. By several accounts, including a very detailed one worth reading posted just after the hearing on Thursday by Phoenix PDA activist, Michael Shelby, describe the hearings as nothing short of an incredible public spectacle.

Shelby writes, "I've been through two wars, been to a county fair, and watched a goat roping but I've never seen anything like the Senate hearing at the Arizona State Capitol today." He then goes on to describe the blow-by-blow list of witnesses, including Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas who had to be subpoenaed to appear, and who, along with County Recorder Helen Purcell and County Elections Director Karen Osborne, have reportedly been actively working to keep anybody from examining the actual ballots in question!

Amongst the revelations at the hearings, the ballots from the race are currently being stored, not in the County Treasurer's vault as prescribed by law, but rather in some storage facility or another where they are unprotected from all manner of possible degredation. As Shelby reports:

When asked about the whereabouts of the ballots in question and their storage conditions, Ms. Osborne launched into a fantastic description of a cement block house somewhere, she wasn't sure where (confirmed now by County Treasurer David Schwiekert that the ballots are not in the County Treasurer's vault which is required by law), that had no windows or air conditioning and that the ballots were being subjected to temperatures of over 200F and the humidity and the ballots could be unreadable by now...some sixteen months after the election!

When asked by Chairman Harper if she thought that the ballots should be allowed to be inspected, regardless of unknown alleged condition, Ms. Osborne paused and answered as though she were about to plead her 5th amendment rights. She took a breath then refused to answer the question. She instead referred the question to the County Attorney for an answer. Well, ya coulda heard a pin drop as the audience just stared in concerned amazement and perspicacity, instantly grasping the implications of Election Director Osborne's blatant dodging of a simple question.

When it was Attorney Thomas' turn to testify, finally, all hell apparently broke loose with Thomas dodging virtually every question, including the direct question of whether he would "allow the inspection of the ballots". Shelby describes one particularly memorable moment:

Thomas tried to degrade the hearing into a display of invective and spleen. Chairman Harper admonished Thomas that, "This is not about you. This is not about I (sic). This is not about the two candidates. This is about the integrity of elections!" The audience erupted into applause.

Shelby goes on to cover some of the back (and current) story concerning Thomas' attempts to shut down Harper's investigation:

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas has taken extraordinary steps to hide the underlying causes of the District 20 fiasco. Thomas conducted a "preliminary" investigation into District 20 last spring at the request of Maricopa County Republican party leaders. His investigators discovered extremely damaging evidence of problems inside the county elections department. They found that the county's voting machines may have failed during the 2004 primary, and they discovered evidence of witness tampering ("All Bark and No Bite," July 14).

What did Thomas do with such evidence of voting machine failure and interference in a court proceeding by public employees?

He sanctioned the member of his own office who was involved, but then closed his investigation.

Since that date, Thomas has been particularly hostile to Harper's efforts to obtain the ballots to determine what happened.

His office is now attacking the credibility of Douglas Jones' examination of the voting machines involved, as well as publicly ridiculing Harper.

In an incredible affront to the public's fundamental right to fair elections, Thomas is now saying he will oppose all efforts to inspect the District 20 ballots.

New Times' Dougherty, as well, covered yesterday's hearings and the revelations of the 17,000 ballots "stashed away in an unguarded, un-air-conditioned warehouse west of Sky Harbor Airport" in another fine piece of reporting filed Thursday night.

It should be noted here that the results of the election in question are no longer at stake. The "winning" candidate has already been certified, and the results of any legitimate investigation of the ballots --- no matter what is found --- will, by the admission of all parties involved, not change the final results of the election one iota.

So then what the hell is going on here? What are the officials in Maricopa County so stridently, and so embarrasingly and publicly, attempting to hide by not allowing the inspection of the actual ballots? What might be discovered if the ballots are allowed to be inspected by an agreed-upon third-party expert? And why has Arizona's Secretary of State Jan Brewer --- who two weeks ago called Election Integrity advocates "conspiracy theorists" and "anarchists", as we reported at the time --- apparently aided and abetted in an apparent cover-up, keeping officials from her own party from proceeding with a legitimate investigation? For that matter, why isn't she at the very forefront of any such investigation, since all of this would seem to fall smack-dab in the middle of her very own purview as the state's SoS? Why does she seem to be siding with those attempting to obfuscate and obscure any such inspection of the ballots themselves?

Kudos go to the Election Integrity advocates in Arizona, like John Brakey and many others, who have been all over these matters for months. Without the noise made by such citizens, these issues might have been completely swept under the rug without anyone ever noticing.

Of course, The BRAD BLOG will attempt to keep you up to date with notable points in this still-developing story, as events warrant. While the LD20 matter might, at first blush, seem to be a rather localized affair, enough evidence has come forward to suggest the mysteries involved in this case may ultimately reveal a much wider conspiracy of Electoral Fraud with broad national implications.

Stay tuned...