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Nearly identical recount by hand shakes allegations of wrongdoing

Guest Writer
Guest Opinion

When more than 120,000 votes were counted in Pima County’s Regional Transportation Authority election in 2006, tallies showed both the plan and a sales tax to pay for it won by wide margins.

When the votes were recounted by hand this month in a thorough examination coordinated by my office, the outcome was nearly identical, with a difference of only 0.01 percent. That should put to rest accusations of wrongdoing that have reverberated for the past 2 1/2 years.

The hand count was undertaken in response to allegations of electronic tampering and fraud. Our investigation has not found evidence of either crime, and a laborious examination of the ballots – conducted in a room open to public viewing over a seven-day period – affirms the results.

The RTA election consisted of two questions.

The first asked voters, “Do you approve the regional transportation plan for Pima County?” The official election canvass recorded 119,818 votes cast in response to this question. Of those, 71,948 (or 60.05 percent) were “yes” votes, and 47,870 (39.95 percent) were “no” votes.

The examination of the ballots found 119,262 votes cast in response to this question. Of those, 71,626 (60.06 percent) were “yes” votes and 47,636 (39.94 percent) were “no” votes.

The second ballot question asked voters, “Do you favor the levy of a transportation privilege (sales) tax for regional transportation purposes in Pima County?”

The official election canvass recorded 119,324 votes cast in response to this question. Of those, 68,773 (57.64 percent) were “yes” votes, and 50,551 (42.36 percent) were “no” votes.

The examination of the ballots found a total of 118,726 votes cast in response to this question. Of those, 68,420 (57.63 percent) were “yes” votes and 50,306 (42.37 percent) were “no” votes.

The difference of plus or minus 0.01 percent in each category of votes cast was due to the presence of ballots with inconclusive markings.

Among the inconclusive ballots, investigators do not know precisely which ballots the optical scanner was capable or incapable of reading. Therefore, ballots that did not contain clearly readable “yes” or “no” votes were not included in the examination totals.

The official canvass of the May 2006 Pima County Special Election recorded 120,821 ballots cast. In our examination, 120,888 physical ballots were hand counted. The difference of 67 additional ballots was due to unused excess ballots included among those examined.

My office first investigated the RTA election in 2007 after local political parties and community members raised concerns that computerized election data had been manipulated.

At that time, the office determined that no data were changed but that the Pima County election system did contain significant election security weaknesses.

Since then, several changes have been made that have strengthened the system’s security.

My office reopened the investigation in July 2008 when additional information was brought to light.

In February, the Attorney General’s Office seized 105 boxes of election materials from the Pima County Elections Division, including the ballots and poll tapes from the 2006 Pima County Special Election. The chain of custody of all election materials was at all times secure.

Examination of the ballots was conducted in Phoenix between April 6 and April 15 by the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office Elections Division staff under the supervision of Attorney General’s Office investigators.

The procedure for examining and counting the ballots was typical of a hand count of election ballots, with additional security measures necessary for handling criminal evidence.

Establishing election procedures that are secure, accurate and transparent is fundamental to maintaining public confidence in our democratic process.

I hope the hand count will assure Pima County voters that the election results are no longer in serious dispute.

If some evidence of wrongdoing were yet to surface, my office would review it. But based on all that we know at this time, the RTA election investigation is now closed.

Terry Goddard is Arizona’s attorney general.

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