Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

RTA discrepancy was foes’ prediction

Citizen Staff Writer

Mark Kimble

When questions were raised about the successful 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election, opponents cited polls as reason for suspicion.

Polling conducted before the election indicated a likely defeat for the plan and a half-cent sales tax to pay for it, opponents claimed.

So when both questions easily passed, something was fishy, they said.

There’s only one problem. It’s not true.

Polls never showed the questions being defeated. In fact, polls taken in the days leading up to the election were amazingly accurate in predicting the actual results of May 16, 2006.

That, of course, doesn’t prove anything. But when election results mirror polling results, it makes it hard to believe the results might have been flipped, as opponents claimed.

Now there certainly were areas of concern. Two computer experts who examined how Pima County runs its vote-counting operation were less than impressed. One said, “The facts available match an ‘election hacking’ incident.”

That evaluation came after computer records showed that early ballots had been run through the county computers before Election Day, with totals of the early vote printed out.

The county said it was part of the routine equipment-check process. Others said the county could have peeked at the data, seen the RTA questions were headed to defeat, then schemed to have the “yes” votes counted as “no” votes and vice versa.

Adding to the suspicion were Tucsonans’ record in transportation elections. In 1984, 1986, 1990, 2002 and 2003, voters rejected sales tax increases to pay for transportation improvements. Then came the victory in 2006.

That led to all sorts of suspicions, a drawn-out legal battle demanding county computer records and finally to an investigation by Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.

Last week, Goddard said vote totals announced by the county three years ago matched almost exactly the totals found in a hand-count of the ballots overseen by his office.

Both counts showed about 60 percent supported the RTA plan and about 58 percent supported the half-cent sales tax increase.

That also was predicted in a poll days before the election.

Pete Zimmerman of Zimmerman and Associates, a local political consulting firm, was hired by supporters of the RTA to run the “yes” campaign. And Chris Baker of Tucson-based Marketing Intelligence conducted polling to gauge public support.

Three days before the vote, Baker’s polls suggested the plan would pass with support of 58.3 percent to 67.3 percent. The sales tax also would pass, his poll suggested, with slightly lower support.

He was right on both counts with the totals falling within his predicted margin.

Baker started conducting polls in December 2005 – five months before the election. In the final two weeks before the vote, daily polls were conducted. And never did any poll show either RTA question losing.

Zimmerman said he never believed allegations that the vote had been flipped. The key was Ajo, which is in Pima County but was not going to benefit from any of the RTA projects, Zimmerman said.

“If the vote had actually been flipped, we would have won Ajo,” Zimmerman said. “And there was no way we were going to win Ajo.”

Mark Kimble appears at 6:30 p.m. Fridays on the Roundtable segment of “Arizona Illustrated” on KUAT-TV, Channel 6. Phone 573-4662 or e-mail mkimble@tucsoncitizen.com.

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