3/13/2009

Pima County - When We Get Behind Closed Doors

by Jim March
A member of the Black Box Voting board of directors


Below you will see an unedited picture taken, per my camera's timestamp, at 7:04 p.m. tonight (3/10/09). It shows the shuttered, closed doors to the sole polling location for the city of South Tucson Arizona, moments after I asked to observe the closing of the polls.

The blinds were rolled closed in response to my request.

After all the headache trying to open this county election process to proper, lawful oversight, this is the result: Counting in complete secrecy.

A review of one of the core principles that founded this nation: Citizens have the inalienable RIGHT to self-government. No one has yet made a convincing argument that counting votes in secret can co-exist with self-government.

Now it should be noted that the state of Arizona allows only political parties (and NOT the public) to observe elections, which violates our right to self government (you can't control what you are not allowed to see). Worse, until recently this meant that "non-partisan" elections at the local government level received no scrutiny at all since parties were "not involved."

Senator Chuck Gray attempted to reform that latter issue to allow observation in nonpartisan elections and his 2008 bill SB1053 should have taken care of it but local government officials are taking the questionable view that while central tabulator operations are now observable in non-partisan elections, poll closing activities are not

But even Arizona's limited observation was blocked in South Tucson on March 10. I hold credentials as a "party observer" and I am a member of the Pima County Election Integrity Commission, created by the Pima County Board of Supervisors. (more: http://www.bbvforums.org/forums/messages/1954/79477.html )

BACKGROUND: On Mar. 10, 2009, Pima County conducted elections in three small towns: Marana, South Tucson and Sahuarita. Elections were conducted by the Pima County elections office, under the direction of each of the town clerks.

HOW PIMA COUNTY DODGES ARIZONA ELECTION OBSERVATION LAW

Brad Nelson, Pima County elections director, holds the democracy-blocking opinion that non-partisan elections are subject to no outside oversight at all because independent election observation in Arizona is deemed the function of political parties.

In all states, according to our founding documents, conducting ALL aspects of elections in public that is, allowing any member of the public to watch is an inalienable right, because the public cannot self-govern if government insiders conduct our elections in secret. Arizona prohibits public observation, violating this right.* Substituting observation by political parties does not honor our rights. But in Pima County, even Arizona's undemocratic and limited observations by political parties were not permitted on March 10.

* We still HAVE the right to public observations in Arizona, but the legislature refuses to honor this right. You cannot remove an inalienable right by legislating against it; fundamental rights, like freedom and self-government, can be obstructed with laws but laws cannot take away these right.

PIMA COUNTY ANTI-OBSERVATION PRACTICE VIOLATES STATE LAW

To clarify the issue of observation in non-partisan elections, last year this state passed SB1053, opening observation beyond parties in non-partisan elections. The bill changed Arizona Revised Statute 16-621, "Proceedings At The Counting Center." Pima County's Brad Nelson then applied his own restrictive interpretation on the state's clarification. He now claims that "counting center" does not include what goes on in polling places after the polls close. Basically, he claims that the only portion of the observation process is the central tabulator the system that adds up all the polling place results.

This flies in the face of any number of statutes; for the record, ARS 16-601 is an old bit of code laying down a general public transparency principle. For the rest, I'm including for your reference at the end of this item a letter by former Arizona state representative Ted Downing.

But really, the details don't matter. The principle that BALLOTS MUST NOT BE HANDLED IN SECRET OR BEHIND CLOSED BLINDS is universally understood.

In a final twist, Nelson attempted to buck-pass the issue to the town clerks involved. He coached them on their positions, convinced them to take his position, phrased their language for them.

I can also say with certainty that the legislators who supported the prior reform effort will be outraged at Nelson's nit-pick dismantling of their intent, and with any luck the Pima Board of Supervisors who employ Nelson may finally figure out from this latest abuse that he simply cannot be trusted with the engine of democracy.

As it stands now, Pima County elections violate the rights of the public. If there are no consequences, Pima County will have undemocratic elections. Please help us call these violations to the attention of the media and the authorities.

LET THERE BE CONSEQUENCES

To help you do this, I have provided a list of contacts for you. Because we are fighting for our inalienable rights, which are under attack from certain politicians, we recommend sending your letter to multiple layers of authority. To help you write your e-mails or letters, I have provided Ted Downing's letter on this issue.

Black Box Voting asks that each of you and especially those who live in South Tucson and Marana, to let the South Tucson and Marana city councils involved in this abuse know that you are outraged. Key points for short letters and e-mails:

- There is no place for secrecy in elections. It is an offense and and outrage against democratic principles.
- Pima County Elections Director Brad Nelson's office has counseled and persuaded poll workers and town clerks to act in violation of the most basic principles of democracy, hiding poll-closing activities behind closed doors with shuttered windows.
- We seek remedy. We seek consequences. Such actions violate our rights, such actions violate basic principles of democracy, and these actions violate Arizona law.
- Without consequences, laws become meaningless.
- We ask for your help to invoke consequences on public officials who violate our rights.

CONTACTS:

Chuck Gray, Majority Leader in the Arizona Senate cgray@azleg.gov
Senator Jorge Garcia jgarcia@azleg.gov
(Please note that it's their law opening non-partisan elections to observation that is being twisted beyond recognition by local officials - they need to be made aware of this fact.)

Pima County Board of Supervisors:
Ann Day - Ann.Day@pima.gov
Ramon O. Valadez dist2@pima.gov
Sharon Bronson district3@pima.gov
Ray Carroll district4@pima.gov
Richard Elias district5@pima.gov

These are the people who employ Brad Nelson, who was ultimately behind this secretive process.

Mr. Downing's letter:

March 9th 2009
Mr. Brad Nelson
Pima County Elections Director

RE: Lockout of Democratic and other Party observers from polling places during forthcoming non-partisan municipal elections.

Dear Mr. Brad Nelson,

Mr. Jim March reports that at the poll worker's training session on 4 March, you stated that poll observers are not permitted at the forthcoming Marana/Sahaurita town council elections because the election is a non-partisan race.

In your 5 March 09 email to the Pima County Democratic Party Chair, Jeff Rogers, you state:

" In the mean time I would suggest that a review of ARS 16-586 {corrected in a later email to 16-590) may be appropriate. This statute refers to the process of the political parties assigning party reps to the polls only when a political party is represented on the ballot.

Members of the public may be in the polling place exclusively for the purpose of voting. Once they have cast their ballot they are to retire outside of the 75 foot limit. ARS 16-515."

Your decision misinterprets ARS 16-515 and 16-590 with respect to the Party's statutory rights as overseers of the election process. It discourages transparency and openness in election procedures to assure election integrity. It contradicts the spirit of Title 16 and recent law (see below). It find it disappointing that, after the substantial costs to the Pima County taxpayers, that you would not wish to reasonably accommodate efforts toward transparency and accountability.

You have no basis for claiming party agents or representatives must stay beyond the 75' limit line from the entrance to the polls during non-partisan. ARS 16-515 and 16-562, 16-590 draw no distinction between partisan and non-partisan elections. In partisan elections, party observers routinely watch, unless they threaten keeping order and the enforcement of law. And you have not identified, through any correspondence to the Parties that I know of, a specific threat to order appears in non-partisan races that has lead you to change your procedures distinct from that used for partisan.

Furthermore, ARS 16-570B states that the voting machine shall be placed and protected that it is accessible to only one voter at a time and is in full view of all election officers and watchers at the polling place." Similarly, 16-572 B requires the ballots must be kept within plain public view to watchers until the polls close. Your ad hoc advice and/or decision to require non-election officials, including watchers to stay outside the 75' line nullifies the public view provisions of these statutes.

Furthermore, on 5 March, in response to further questions on these issues from Chairman Rogers, you state that :

" I am not the chief election official for the upcoming municipal elections. The respective Municipal Clerk is. If a Clerk gives you permission to have observers in the polls; that's their call, it's their election."

I understand that you personally trained the workers for this election and have play an active role in interpreting state law, in your capacity as Pima County Election Director in the non-partisan elections taking place Tuesday. If, as you state, you do not have any jurisdictional authority on non-partisan, non-county elections, at the very least, the elected officials in non-county jurisdictions and the public merit being informed that you improperly trained and advised their poll workers on the above issues.

And I am hoping your training referenced recent changes in Arizona law (ARS 16-621) that clearly shows the Legislature desires a clear role for observers in non-partisan elections, a law that I brought to sponsor's, Senator Chuck Gray's (R-Mesa), attention and get passed.

Please take prompt, appropriate corrective action to cease the lock or advise to another jurisdiction to conduct a lock out in the polling places out of observers in this and future races.

I remain,

Dr. Ted Downing, Chair, Arizona Democratic Party's Election Integrity Committee
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