AG-selected party observers barred from taking notes, or video-taping long-sought manual tabulation of paper ballots from disputed 2006 election...
By Brad Friedman on 4/6/2009, 11:52am PT  

We wrote late last week, in some detail, about Arizona AG Terry Goddard's long overdue hand-count of paper ballots from the dubious 2006 Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) bond special election in Pima County (Tucson). The count of all 120,821 paper ballots from the election begins today in Phoenix as part of a criminal investigation, following years of allegations and court cases, in which a trans-partisan group of Election Integrity advocates in Tucson have sought transparency and public oversight following indications that Diebold tabulator databases may have been manipulated by election insiders.

Goddard's restrictions on political party observers --- just one per party, selected by the AG, not by the parties themselves --- was the cause of criticism by all of the involved parties (Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, etc.). But a letter [PDF] late last week from the AG's office indicated, at least, that a live, eight-camera video feed would be available on the Internet.

"Eight cameras will stream live video of the examination proceedings to the internet courtesy of the Maricopa County Elections Department," the AG promised. And, as the count began this morning, that feed is now up and running here.

Unfortunately, unlike Minnesota's recent, very transparent hand-count of 2.9 million ballots from the state's still-contested U.S. Senate race, the video from the Maricopa County Ballot Tabulation Center (BTC) is all but worthless, as critics had previously worried, in determining if counts are being carried out accurately.

Here are screen shots from this morning, as counting began, from all eight camera-views --- only two of which show any actual counting at all, while six of them are focused on different areas in the Phoenix counting facility (click a photo to see the live streaming shot)...

As you can tell, the Internet streams are completely worthless as far as observing the accuracy of the ballot count in any way. The two that do manage to be in the room where counting is going on, are far enough away that it's impossible to actually overseen any of the counted ballots themselves.

Goddard had previous specified that there would be strict rules for AG-selected party observers, ensuring that it would be impossible for them to take any notes or document the counting in any way shape or form. "[N]o cameras, no cell telephones, no writing instruments, and no audio or video recorders of any kind will be permitted within the examination room," Deputy AG Donald E. Conrade wrote to all four party chairs in his March 23, 2009 letter [PDF]. Along with additional restrictions, the AG noted: "No representative will be permitted to communicate with anyone outside of the examination room while present in the examination room by signal, voice or other sign."

A limited number of observers would be allowed outside the counting room, supposedly able to view the tabulation through glass windows. However, based on the photos from the live streaming cams, as seen above, it's difficult to figure out where an observer outside of the room would be able to determine if counting was, in any way, being done accurately.

"It's a joke," one of Pima County's tireless election integrity advocates John Brakey, of Americans United for Democracy, Integrity, and Transparency in Elections AuditAZ, told us this morning as the counting began.

Though he traveled 120 miles from Tucson to Phoenix for the counting, Brakey, one of the most vociferous of the local leaders in trying to bring transparency to Pima's 2006 election, was barred by the state AG from the counting room.

While Goddard's office had earlier explained that "this is a criminal investigation, not an elections process controlled by applicable Arizona election laws," it's difficult to fathom what the point is in even streaming Internet video feeds at all, if the AG-selected "observers" are unable to document anything in any way, observers outside the glass are blind to the actual counting, and what's seen above is all that will be made available to the rest of the world.

So much for transparency or public oversight in AG Goddard's ballot count, brought about due to the years-long demand for transparency and public oversight of the disputed 2006 special election.

As more breaks...if it breaks...and as we're able to learn it from our sources at the counting facility in Phoenix...we'll do our best to keep you abreast with what's going on...

Recently related:
Ballots from 'Fixed' Arizona Election Finally to be Counted in Criminal Investigation by State AG

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