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Hand count of RTA ballots will finally end election doubt

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

Our Opinion

Almost three years after voters cast their ballots in the Regional Transportation Authority election, any doubts about the outcome of that election are about to be erased.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office next week will hand count all 120,821 ballots cast in the May 2006 special election.

The count won’t be an official recount of the ballots. And regardless of the results, it won’t directly affect the outcome.

But this new hand count will accomplish something far more significant: It will either put to rest allegations of ballot tampering – or it will breathe new life into those allegations, casting an irrefutable pall over operations of the Pima County Division of Elections.

The recount will begin Monday and is expected to take most of the week. It is being conducted as part of a criminal investigation into complaints of election tampering.

It is frustrating that the hand count – the one way that tampering claims could be dismissed or verified – has taken so long to happen. Because such a count was not permitted under election law, it could be conducted only as part of a criminal investigation.

It also is unfortunate the hand count is being done in Phoenix. Because the voting took place and the allegations were raised in Pima County, it would have made it easier for involved participants to have the count here.

But the key point is this: Pima County voters soon will have the satisfaction of knowing – without a doubt – whether their votes were accurately counted.

County returns after the election showed about 60 percent of those who voted supported the transportation plan and 57.6 percent supported a 20-year, half-cent sales tax increase to pay for it.

It is unrealistic to expect that the hand count will produce numbers identical to those from the machine scan conducted the night of the election and several days following. Feeding the same ballots though scanners several times often produces slightly different results as ballots become worn or dirt, smudges and other factors affect how marks are read.

But the hand count should produce final numbers very close to those coming from the machine scanning. That would finally dismiss allegations that the result was flipped and voters actually rejected the RTA measures.

There has been no proof that happened. But computer trails of the pre-Election Day counting of early ballots have shown anomalies that have not been adequately explained.

Few things are more important to American citizens than the right to vote – and having confidence that their votes will be fairly counted. Lingering questions about the RTA election would only undermine that.

Conduct the hand count in an open and transparent way and disseminate the results fully and quickly. That will end those doubts.

There has been no proof of any wrongdoing. But questions have cast a pall over the Pima County Division of Elections.

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