3/05/2009

PIMA COUNTY FRAUD INVESTIGATION BALLOTS ON LOCKDOWN -- BUT WHERE?

Pima County Courthouse, Tucson, AZImage via Wikipedia

A group of citizens showed up on Tuesday in Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard's office. They were wondering where the 2006 Pima County ballots, the subject of an election fraud investigation, are being kept.

One early report indicated the ballots were being stored by Maricopa County -- hardly a model of intact chain of custody itself. The Pima County ballots had been secretly removed from a secure storage facility about a week earlier.

Jim March, a member of the board of directors for Black Box Voting; John Brakey, of AuditAZ, and other Pima County citizens wanted to know where the ballots are now -- who has access, what are the security arrangements, how can their integrity be verified?

THE STORY SO FAR:

The Pima County May 2006 RTA election stinks. If it wasn't rigged, somebody went to a lot of trouble to make it LOOK crooked.

Last week Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard caught at least part of a clue and decided to step in. Wonderful.

NOT SO GREAT: He came and grabbed the ballots from the SECURE private facility where they were locked up (Iron Mountain Storage in Pima County; Iron Mountain is a firm that specializes in secure document storage and escrow) and hauled the ballots away to points unknown. This took place, in secret, some time around Feb. 24 this year.

CHAIN OF CUSTODY PERSPECTIVE: When cops of any rank come and grab ballots without oversight or cooperative security measures, it's a Bad Thing. It's how third world dictators behave. The most gracious possible explanation is that Mr. Goddard just didn't understand the implications or the significance of such an act.

Arizona citizens decided to tell him.

MARICOPA'S SPOTTY CHAIN OF CUSTODY HISTORY

The most critical Maricopa County ballots, scheduled for a post-election hand count spot check during the 2008 general election were handed over to Sheriff Joe Arpaio for several days; one controversy on these ballots involved Sheriff Joe Arpaio's race.

More absurd: In Maricopa County, chain of custody is supposedly secured with numbered seals. Maricopa ordered 20 copies of each number; Ten were given to elections workers and the elections office kept 10 more.

Ordering even ONE duplicate numbered seal automatically breaks the chain of custody because it allows a person to replace a seal with another of the same number. Sending 10 with the poll workers lets them break in and replace the seals over and over, and giving 10 more to the elections office adds opportunity for insiders to swap ballots before handing them over for hand count spot checks.

DOES MARICOPA HAVE THE PIMA COUNTY BALLOTS?

No, says Assistant Director of Maricopa Elections office Rey Valenzuela. Maricopa doesn't have the ballots, but has been tasked with doing the hand recount for the Pima County RTA ballots.

So if Maricopa doesn't have them, and they've been removed from the secure storage facility in Pima County, Pima citizens wanted to know: "Where are the ballots?"

Maricopa officials said they don't have any idea where they are. Voting rights attorney Bill Risner asked, but could get no answers; Pima County citizens tried to meet with someone -- anyone -- from the Attorney General's office, but no one would talk to them at all about procedures being used for this most public of public interest matters, the ballots in a public election for a public transit question.

Maricopa officials predict that the recount will take place around April 6. The question now becomes: Recount of WHAT? If the chain of custody of the ballots cannot be ascertained, there is no way to know whether they are counting real ballots or ballots that have been prepared to match the stated result.

According to Maricopa County officials, they prefer to have public -- or at least party -- observation of the recount, but they say it's up to the attorney general whether the count will be open to observation. Will it be done in public, or in front of party representatives, or not observed at all?
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