Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Results due soon in hand count of transportation ballots

Attorney general: Electronic systems ‘very, very bad’

Maricopa County Recorder's Office employees Melanie Glass (right) and Alice Crespin (far right) examine ballots from the May 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election. In the 2006 count, Pima County voters approved the measure.

Maricopa County Recorder's Office employees Melanie Glass (right) and Alice Crespin (far right) examine ballots from the May 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election. In the 2006 count, Pima County voters approved the measure.

The Maricopa County Elections Division has finished a hand count of ballots from the 2006 Pima County Regional Transportation Authority election and results will be released in several days, Attorney General Terry Goddard said Wednesday.

“I’m getting that information from our agents in the field now,” Goddard said in a telephone interview.

Goddard said results from the hand count of the May 16, 2006, RTA election should reveal if results were criminally tampered with, but cannot be used to overturn the election results alone.

“This is not a recount for the purpose of overturning the election,” Goddard said.

Goddard ordered the 120,821 ballots recounted to determine whether the election results were tampered with, either at the polls or later in the tabulating process.

The ballot measures passed and wound up securing a half-cent increase in sales tax to provide cash for roads, a modern streetcar line, buses and other transportation projects. The RTA has collected about $210 million since the sales-tax increase began.

Officials with the Democratic and Libertarian parties in Pima County alleged the financing measure, which failed four times previously and was far behind in pre-election polls, succeeded in 2006 because of fraud.

The Democrats successfully sued Pima County in 2007 to obtain copies of the computer databases from past elections – the first time a judge in the United States has ordered a government to release electronic vote records to a political party.

Goddard said some “coincidences and aberrations” and “strange twists and turns pointed out” by party officials and critics of computer-based voting were instrumental in his launching the criminal investigation of the RTA election.

The attorney general would not comment on whether a grand jury has been convened to further investigate the allegations.

Bill Risner, the attorney for the Pima County Democratic Party, told Goddard in a letter Monday that he suspects up to 20,000 ballots may be missing from the hand count results.

“Our observers are greatly concerned that many thousands of ballots may be ‘missing,’ ” Risner wrote.

Risner said the investigation should go beyond a hand count of the ballots.

“For us to do our job, we need to see the poll tapes and yellow sheets and other public record election documents,” Risner said.

Those election materials were not examined for comparison to the ballot count, Risner said.

Critics questioned ballot security before the count and complained that Goddard’s office limited their ability to observe the tabulation.

“They’re doing it in a way to make sure that the political parties don’t know what’s going on,” Risner complained. “We’re plenty annoyed with the secrecy.”

During an initial investigation in 2007, the Attorney General’s Office hired an independent company to analyze the machines. Experts at iBeta Software Quality Assurance found a number of “irregularities” and determined that the Premier system had “fundamental security flaws.”

Independent analysts and academic experts have for years assailed electronic vote systems like Diebold, now known as Premier Election Solutions Inc., which manufactured the devices used in Tucson.

Critics contend the electronic-voting machines and supporting software are ripe for fraud.

Goddard agrees. “These (Premier) systems are very, very bad,” Goddard said. “(They) are not state of the art in terms of security. They are not state of the art in terms of transparency.”

Pima County has substantially improved procedures in its Elections Division since his initial probe in 2007, Goddard said.

But ramifications of the ballot review may be even bigger than the $2.1 billion RTA spending package: Voting machines in Pima County, which includes Tucson, are similar to those used in 12 of Arizona’s 15 counties and in hundreds of jurisdictions across the country.

If it turns out the election was rigged by manipulating the computer programs or memory cards, some fear it will show weaknesses in electronic balloting that could endanger the democratic process.

Electronic vote system manufacturers refuse to divulge how their systems work, calling it proprietary information.

But they have started conceding that their systems do have vulnerabilities that could lead to election cheating.

Chris Riggall, a spokesman for Premier, said his company uses the most advanced technology available and urges clients to establish security protocols. Although there are internal safety features to prevent and detect tampering, Riggall added, those must be supported by external controls over election workers who handle the equipment.

“You can manipulate any voting system devised by man,” he said, noting that even paper ballots are subject to fraud.

Jim March, a Libertarian Party officer in Tucson, said he and John Brakey of the Pima County Democratic Party discovered that chief election technician Bryan Crane ran computer checks five days before the polling date to determine the vote tally based on more than 16,000 mail-in ballots.

Although it is not illegal to conduct such a check, it is unlawful to divulge the results because partisan activists could use pre-election tallies to decide on campaign finance and advertising strategies.

March said testimony in the open-records case showed Pima County elections staffers “were basically passing these results around like baseball scores.”

“They were peeking into where votes were going,” he added, “and there was something particularly squirrely about the RTA election.”

Brad Nelson, elections director for Pima County, said he does not believe there was any wrongdoing by employees.

Crane did not respond to a request for an interview made through Nelson. He has not been charged with any offense and continues overseeing Pima County’s election technology.

Citizen Staff Writer Garry Duffy contributed to this article.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

Search site | Terms of service