A Superior Court judge Thursday denied Pima County’s request for an immediate ruling in a lawsuit seeking access to vote records from the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election.
Judge Michael Miller’s action means that he considers arguments by the plaintiff, the Pima County Democratic Party, to have sufficient weight to continue the trial at least through Friday.
Chief County Civil Attorney Chris Straub contended that even if the election database from the May 16, 2006, RTA election is a legal public record, it should be withheld because its release could compromise the security of future elections.
“There is something more going on in these files besides the storage of data,” Straub said.
Thursday’s session saw the county’s chief computer programmer, Bryan Crane, called back to the stand. Crane defended his actions in taking computer record tapes and compact discs home with him over several election cycles.
Crane is a focal point in the Democrats’ lawsuit because of allegations that the tapes and discs he took home with him contained data that could be manipulated to change election results.
Thursday, Crane said he took office data home with him, but that it had nothing to do with elections.
Crane also denied providing election summary reports to people outside the Elections Division before polls closed on election night May 16, 2006.
Release of vote summaries before the polls closed could have been used to tip off backers of the RTA plan about how the vote was going, allowing them to take last-minute steps to avoid defeat.
Bill Risner, attorney for the Pima County Democratic Party, called Chris Gniady, a University of Arizona computer scientist, to back Democrats’ claims that the Diebold-GEMS voting system used by the county, in conjunction with Microsoft Access software, could be easily tampered with to alter vote totals in elections.
Gniady testified that the database of the 2006 election could be handed over as demanded by Democrats without endangering future elections. And the database could help show if any behind-the-scenes tampering occurred in the election, he said.
The opposite was asserted by Pima County’s expert witness.
“There are people who collect information on voting systems,” said Merle King, associate professor of information systems at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.
King raised national security concerns in his testimony.
“I’m not sure that once it is released, there is a way to restrain its distribution,” King said.
Gila County Elections Director Dixie Mundy testified that withholding the database is required by state law.
“If the county is required to release the database, so would all counties,” she said.
At least 10 Arizona counties use similar Diebold-GEMS elections systems, and creating new databases for each new election in those counties would be costly and time consuming, she said.
The Pima County Division of Elections will hold four hearings to gather public comment on an election security plan.
The meetings are scheduled for:
• 2 p.m. Friday at the Oro Valley Public Library, 1305 W. Naranja Drive
• 2 p.m. Monday at theKirk/Bear Canyon Library, 8959 E. Tanque Verde Road
• 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in Conference Room C of the Pima County Public Works Building, 201 N. Stone Ave.
• 2 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Joyner-Green Valley Branch Library, 601 N. La Cañada Drive
Written comments or suggestions also will be accepted until 5 p.m. Dec. 14 by the Pima County Division of Elections Office, 3434 E. 22nd St., Tucson, AZ 85713.