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Hand count of the 2006 RTA election ballots begins Monday

A hand count of the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election ballots that begins Monday won’t necessarily impact the official election results, regardless of what it reveals.

The Arizona attorney general is investigating complaints by critics of electronic vote systems that the election results might have been criminally tampered with to ensure its success.

The hand count by the Maricopa County Elections Division will be observed by a single representative from each of the Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian parties in Pima County.

“The intent of the count is not to change or confirm the election results,” Anne Titus Hilby, the department of law press secretary at the Attorney General’s Office, said Friday.

“The information learned from this will determine what the next steps will be,” Hilby said.

Arizona election laws do not address what should follow if vote or ballot tampering is uncovered. The allowable timeline for challenging the official results has long since passed.

The investigation is a criminal probe, “not an elections process controlled by applicable Arizona election laws,” Donald E. Conrad, criminal division chief counsel, wrote to leaders of Pima County political parties last month.

Conrad outlined the procedures that will be followed during the ballot examination process, which can be observed in person by one representative of local political parties.

Party officials were told to submit three names each as potential observers. The Attorney General’s Office is to select the actual observers from the parties.

The observers will be subject to searches. They will not be allowed to bring cameras, cell phones, writing instruments, or audio or video recorders into the areas where the ballots will be examined.

Party officials said the requirement to submit three names to the office as potential observers was hard to meet because the selected observer would have to commit to five work days next week at the Maricopa County Elections Division.

“It was difficult. It is up there in Phoenix,” Jeff Rogers, chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party, said.

The Pima County Republican Party also submitted three names as potential observers, Paula Maxwell, executive director, said.

Pima County Libertarians submitted a single name. That person was rejected by the Attorney General’s Office after a background check showed that elections integrity activist Jim March pleaded guilty in California in 1993 to misdemeanor traffic charges. He did so “to make it go away,” March said Friday.

“The real goal here is to prevent anyone from keeping an independent tally of the vote,” March said.

Attorney General Terry Goddard’s office did not immediately release the names of selected observers.

The issue over electronic vote and ballot tabulating by the Pima County Elections Division arose in 2007 when the local Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in Superior Court seeking access to the vote and ballot tallying databases for all elections conducted using the computerized Diebold-GEMS electronic system dating to the late 1990s.

Democrats said they wanted experts to look at the databases to see if the system was vulnerable to manipulation that could alter vote totals.

County officials refused and the case was tried last year.

Superior Court Judge Michael Miller in December 2007 ordered the county to turn over some of the electronic vote records, but solely from the May 2006 special election.

It was the first court ruling in the nation where a jurisdiction was ordered to release such records to a political party.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors later directed that the RTA and all other electronic vote records be released to the Democrats.



The public can view the hand count proceedings online at http://recorder.maricopa.gov/elections/Live_Feeds/south_view.aspx

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