Sunnyside Recall Reawakens Struggle for Verifiable Transparent Elections in Pima County

J.T. Waldron
Richard Hernandez

When the growth lobby’s powerful political machine is dependent upon the outcome of key elections conrolled by their own elections department, consistently fair and verifiable elections are impossible without legal intervention. Richard Hernandez, the Chairman of Sunnyside’s effort to recall two school supervisors, understands this dilemma.

“For months, hundreds of residents in the Sunnyside Unified School District have worked to restore honesty and integrity to the Governing Board. The effort to recall SUSD Board president Louie Gonzales and Board member Bobby Garcia has already been a huge victory for the over 100 members of the recall committee and the students and teachers of the District.

We are exhausted from hurdling the many obstacles thrown in our way by corrupt-powers-that-be, but we will not rest until every ballot is counted in a fair and transparent manner.”

A recent meeting at Pima County’s Election Integrity Committee (EIC) offered a unique opportunity for Hernandez and recall candidates to catch a first hand glimpse of how the outcome of their campaign is bureaucratically managed by the county. Previous court cases have established legitimate concern over illegal early peeks at election results by the Elections Division. This information becomes a valuable tool for changing the outcome so Hernandez rightfully expressed the desire to have all the ballots in this small election counted on election day.

Once EIC member Mickey Duniho asked Elections Director Brad Nelson about possibly counting all the ballots on election day, Pima County loyalist Benny White had a little temper tantrum. He pounds his hand on the table to ‘demand the floor’ and proceeds to complain while dubiously citing jurisdictional issues barring the board from simply making an inquiry to Brad Nelson about his schedule. In this watershed moment, the peculiar behavior of Benny White reveals the infiltration of interests that contradict the majority’s desire for transparency, especially when he later complains that “there might be an opposing view, there might not be an opposing view. I don’t know but the opposing view party is not represented here.” In other words, the County Attorney wasn’t given the chance to develop some legal contrivance to justify this betrayal of public trust.

Any bureaucratic nuanced interpretation of rules or policy can be generated to hide key election processes from public oversight. If it wasn’t such a threat to the democratic process, Pima County’s rationale for skirting public scrutiny can be amusing at times. Who would have thought we would hear Brad Nelson, the head of elections in Pima County, try to explain how he’s too busy to count ballots on election day?

In Sunnyside’s district, two elected officials are the subject of a recall effort resulting from the reappointment of Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo. This appears to be making Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry a little uncomfortable. Citizens within the Sunnyside district have the political will to remove elected officials that continue to support the same corrupt bureaucratic head at Sunnyside. What if these uppity citizens realize that similar efforts should be aimed at PIma County’s Board of Supervisors for their continued deferrence to Chuck Huckelberry?

Shortly after the election integrity meeting, Pima County realized that it’s not a good idea to suggest that the elections department is too busy for such a small election day count. Pressure from Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller, Richard Hernandez, various recall candidates and election integrity advocates led to Pima County’s ‘magnanimous gesture’ of counting all the ballots on election day.

While this one concesssion alleviates early counting concerns, adequate oversight is denied in key areas where the vote can still be manipulated. One suspicous location is Apollo Middle School, which has been designated as a ‘ballot drop-off area’. Acting in conjunction with the political bureaucracy, Ann Rodriguez’s office provides a handy excuse for barring election observers.

“The room that will be used is directly adjacent to space used daily by the students and we are required to maintain the secured environment of the educational institution.”

Nothing beats the emotional appeal of children’s safety when when it comes to eroding civil liberties. Those fighting corruption through the recall effort find the Apollo location suspect because Louie Gonzales, the Sunnyside Board President being recalled, has a son whose office is located inside Apollo Middle School.

Last Tuesday, Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller was denied her request to hold an emergency meeting over various concerns for the integrity of the Sunnyside election.   The rest of the elected supervisors publicly voted against further actions to protect the integrity of the Sunnyside election. We should question their wisdom as this vote was witnessed by those who succeeded with holding a recall election against their own district’s corrupt elected officials.

In this non partisan election, Chuck Huckelberry ironically mandated that only representatives from the two major political parties can observe the tabulation. These two are EIC members Barbara Tellman and Benny White.  Surprised?  Perhaps another watershed moment surrounding the Sunnyside election is the decision to ban EIC member Mickey Duniho as an observer. Transparency advocate John Brakey requested from Brad Nelson that Duniho observe the tabulation process like he has in previous elections. Nelson replies “Absolutely not”.  Although the bureaucracy seems to be leaning on the idea that Duniho’s political affiliation is Independent, many recognize Duniho’s exclusion as a retaliatory and vindictive decision against one committee member known for asking the right questions.

Like forever following an unhousebroken dog through an unfamiliar home, election integrity advocates have trailed the Pima Elections Division through every conceivable contrivance and opportunity to manipulate the count. This type of relentless oversight requires an abundance of tenacity and vigilance that few can afford to sustain for any significant length of time. Pima Elections can only be tamed through Attorney Bill Risner’s legal pursuit of prospective relief through the courts. To get an idea of what this dog has left behind over the years, check out Bill Risner’s Statement of Facts, which informs the court what integrity proponents intend to prove. Once evidence is presented through the discovery process, the court can proceed to clean house.

Friday, May 16 marks the eight-year aniversary of the RTA debacle. Despite Pima County spending milllions of dollars to prevent an adequate examination of those RTA ballots, we still have the opportunity to begin the process of disentangling corporate influence over key elections. Those RTA ballots are still at Iron Mountain and people are beginning to ask, “How many more temper tantrums can Benny White throw?”

One thought on “Sunnyside Recall Reawakens Struggle for Verifiable Transparent Elections in Pima County

  • May 21, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Is anyone surprised, Pima County elections are becoming dishonest Chicago. Benny White and Brad Nelson need to go. Chuck Huckelberry should not be involved in Elections


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