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2006 transit election ballots to be recounted

Citizen Staff Writer



A hand recount of the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election ballots will begin April 6, according to a letter the Arizona Attorney General’s Office sent to Pima County political party officials Monday.

The recount is part of a criminal probe by the office into complaints that vote results may have been manipulated.

The office last month seized the ballots from Pima County where officials have been seeking court direction on whether they should be destroyed.

“Our examination of the RTA ballots will include a hand count of the ballots,” wrote Donald E. Conrad, criminal division chief counsel at the Attorney General’s Office. The examination is expected to take five days, he wrote.

Voters on May 16, 2006, approved a 20-year regional transportation plan and a half-cent sales tax to help fund it. The plan was approved 60 percent to 40 percent and the sales tax increase 58 percent to 42 percent. About 120,000 voters cast ballots in the election out of about 462,000 registered to vote in the county.

County voters in the previous 15 years shot down four major transportation plans and funding mechanisms.

At the center of the controversy is the county’s use of electronic vote and ballot tabulating equipment and whether final vote results could have been manipulated to change the election outcome.

“I must emphasize that this is a criminal investigation, not an election process controlled by the applicable Arizona laws,” Conrad wrote. “Attendance and procedures undertaken at this examination will be strictly monitored and overseen by the office of the Attorney General,” Conrad added.

The Pima County Democratic Party in 2007 filed a lawsuit to obtain from the county the electronic records of votes and ballot tabulating processes for every election dating to the late 1990s.

The party’s concerns were fueled by an increasing number of complaints across the nation that computerized election vote systems and software were vulnerable to hacking in a number of ways, including insider tampering, faulty or deliberately misprogrammed memory cards, software malfunctions and data alteration after polls close.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Michael Miller in December 2007 ordered the county to surrender a portion of the electronic vote records, but not those from the May 2006 special election.

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

Local elections integrity activists with AuditAZ have said that they uncovered irregularities in the election vote records they have studied.

They have objected to the attorney general seizing the ballots and taking them to the Maricopa County Elections Division, maintaining that moving the ballots from lockdown in Pima County broke the ballots’ chain of custody and subjected the ballots to physical tampering.

“Our biggest concern is the possibility of ballot substitution,” Jim March, an AuditAZ member who has been among the most critical of county elections equipment and practices.

March said the number of recount observers from Pima County political parties – one each – is not sufficient to adequately monitor the recount.

Pima County and RTA officials also support the investigation, as do the Pima County Democratic, Libertarian, and Republican parties.

Attorney General’s Office to hand-recount ’06 transportation election ballots

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