Arizona election integrity advocates learned that the biggest lies are found not in the lie itself, but in what was purposefully left out. They learned this through Pima County and its elections division.
Those following Arizona’s infamous election shenanigans may remember the story of how Pima County’s Election Integrity Commission (EIC) spent a great deal of time and effort establishing the importance of physically separating vote-by-mail ballots into their precincts before commencing with their legally required one-percent hand count audit.
Prior to all of this effort and discussion taking place, a memo had surfaced during litigation that showed how Elections Director Brad Nelson had secretly solicited a waiver from the Secretary of State excusing Pima County from taking this very step. At that time, AZ Secretary of State Ken Bennett had already agreed to this waiver, so Pima County was the only voting district not required to do this separation before the audit.
After this waiver was quietly requested and granted, Pima County’s representation in these meetings was taped as they feigned ignorance about the waiver and continued to sit in and listen as the EIC deliberated for hours over the importance of that very same waived procedure.
This behavior is abhorrent enough, but if you imagine an entity engaging in this sort of deception for eight months, you may get a sense of how flippant and disrespectful Pima County acts towards its own commission as well as the electorate.
Last fall, new voting machines were introduced to a number of Arizona counties, including Pima. These machines are called ES&S DS850’s and they have a very helpful auditing technology using graphical scans of the ballots counted. A graphical scan is made of each ballot that is run through the machine. The resulting ballot image is what the machine actually uses to count with, so it becomes an integral part of the ballot chain-of-custody.
Pima County’s Election Integrity Commission, a volunteer organization that Pima County developed as a result of litigation surrounding a rigged bond election, meet regularly to discuss various issues involving election transparency. The goal of most of its members is to improve the integrity of elections in Pima County.
This time, members interested in election integrity saw a great opportunity in the ballot images generated by these new voting machines. The images, as a public record, could be used to help verify the count.
During the process of finding the best way to proceed with verifying elections that took place this year, EIC Chair Tom Ryan, a computer professor from the University of Arizona, begun working with the county to host talks by ES&S Vice President Ken Carbullido and statistician Dr. Phillip Stark. In lengthy deliberations lasting through two elections, the commission recommended incorporating any one of three options for a reliable technique to use ballot images as a means of verifying the count.
That’s when Pima County Elections employee Tom Quigley let slip that they have destroyed all the ballot images. They had been destroying them regularly after each day’s count during the elections.
The ballot images themselves are crucial to the chain of custody for all of the elections that took place since last fall, including the Arizona Primary election. So a Federal election had its chain of custody destroyed.
The excuse? Director Nelson tried to claim that the images where too memory intensive to fit in a 40 gigabyte partition. This was quickly dismissed by members as it was determined that all the ballot images in a Pima County election require approximately 24 gigabytes.
So, once again, Pima County misled their own Election Integrity Commission by failing to disclose that those ballot images they were deliberating about for eight months had already been destroyed. John Brakey filed a public records request covering a variety of documents and files surrounding ES&S and Pima Elections.
When Secretary of State Michelle Reagan was alerted of this dilemma, she put forth the specious argument that she can’t approve of using ballot images to verify elections without legislation creating a law that permits her to do so. As Jim March Simpson from BlackBoxVoting puts it:
That’s not how public records laws work. If the stuff exists and the legislature has NOT exempted it, it’s wide open.
The AZ SoS has it exactly backwards.
Jim March Simpson was an integral part of the litigation against Pima County that yielded the largest batch of electronic elections data in U.S. history.
In the EIC meeting that followed, John Brakey addressed what he had observed and heard since last December and why there was no valid reason for destroying the ballot images.