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The RTA recount

Guest Writer
Guest Opinion

Election integrity: Ensured or still in question?

The Pima County Democratic Party is in unanimous agreement that the accurate counting of our votes is fundamental, critical and non-negotiable.

Some 1,500 of our volunteers work at each election to ensure the honesty of those elections.

The recent RTA ballot count by the Attorney General’s Office was a byproduct of that effort but by no means a central focus. The central problem is that we use a computer system that makes cheating easy and detection difficult.

The RTA was endorsed by the Democratic Party. Our concerns had nothing to do with the transportation plan. It had everything to do with the sworn affidavit in which the computer operator confessed to rigging the election on the instruction of his county bosses.

That reported confession, combined with our analysis of the database revealing multiple anomalies consistent with such rigging, required an investigation, in our view, to settle a supremely important question.

Local newspapers and the Republican and Libertarian parties joined in our request for a serious investigation.

Since the ballots had been in the custody of Pima County officials for the past 2 1/2 years, it was necessary to resolve whether those ballots were the original ones.

Pima County owns a ballot printing machine, and the “GEMS” election software still contains all the printing instructions for that election.

The original ballots were printed on an offset press by the Runbeck Co., and Pima County’s ballot printing machine uses a laser printer. We asked the attorney general to conduct a forensic examination or to allow us to look at the ballots with a microscope to confirm they were all offset-printed. The attorney general refused both requests.

We noted that the simple non-destructive examination of sample ballots would serve our mutual goal of public confidence. Despite the presence of the microscope during the 1 1/2 weeks that the ballots were being counted, the attorney general never permitted the examination of any ballots.

We regret that he chose not to resolve that obvious issue, since it was both important and easy to resolve.

Our primary concern by far, however, is future elections. The value of examining past election practices is to ensure that corrections and safeguards are in place for future elections. The entire election process is dependent on doing it right in the first place.

The common problem shared by all citizens in Pima County is that it is easy to cheat using our computer system and very difficult to do anything about it.

The “easy-to-cheat” assertion is agreed upon by all knowledgeable observers. Interestingly, those who know the most about computers are the least comfortable with them counting our votes using secret software instructions. Some sample quotes explain the problem:

• “Because it can be easily manipulated, the bottom line in this whole thing is we’re only going to catch the stupid people, all right, because one could also alter the audit logs. One could do anything.” – Chris Straub, chief civil deputy for the Pima County Attorney’s Office.

• “During testing, it was discovered that the GEMS software exhibits fundamental security flaws that make definitive validation of data impossible due to the ease of data and log manipulation.” – iBeta report to the Arizona attorney general.

• “The security mechanisms that are there are in general hopelessly inadequate to prevent manipulation of ballot records or vote totals by anyone with even a very short period of access to the system.” – David Jefferson, Ph.D.

• “This is no secret. These issues have been known by not only our office but election offices all over the country.” – Arizona Election Director Joseph Kanefield.

The “easy-to-cheat” problem must be combined with the impossibility to challenge any election.

State law requires that an election challenge be filed within five days of the approval of the canvass, with specific details as to why the outcome would have been different.

But the paper ballots cannot be examined. The electronic database cannot be examined within that narrow time frame and can be easily altered in any event.

Finally, the courts have no jurisdiction after the five-day period. Therefore, it is impossible to challenge any crooked election. We know it is impossible, and so do the election computer operators.

The answer is to use a graphic commercial scanner to scan all ballots after they are counted and to make the totality of the ballots publicly available on the Internet or other electronic means. Those ballots can then be counted by any person, candidate or political party using open-source free software.

Bill Risner is a personal injury specialist trial attorney who has represented the Pima County Democratic Party in election matters.

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