Thursday, August 19, 2010

Maricopa County Elections Sued Over Alleged Voting Violations

New Times

A group of diverse individuals including Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Barry Hess, former Republican state Senator Karen Johnson, and voting activist John Brakey are suing Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, alleging that Maricopa County Elections is involved in various voting shenanigans.

Their claim, which you can read in its entirety, here, was filed this Monday in Maricopa County Superior Court, and asks for injunctive relief and court costs. Judge John Hannah has been assigned the case, but so far no hearing dates have been scheduled.

The petition for an injunction makes several specific allegations against Maricopa County Elections. It alleges that the county has not ordered pollworkers to sign the results tapes, the printouts of the electronic tally captured by the optical scanners the county uses to count ballots.The claim also states that observers are not allowed into the ballot tabulating center's computer room.

Plaintiffs further allege that county elections officials are communicating voting results over the Internet, that observers are not allowed to inspect and photograph the physical results tapes (another name for "poll tapes") after the polls close, that the poll tapes are not being placed into secure envelopes, that elections officials are not segregating the vote count by category, and that only one person is transporting ballot material after the polls close, instead of two, as is required.

Colleen Connor, assistant general counsel with the county's litigation office, said that the claims in the complaint were inaccurate, and based on information gleaned from the 2006 and 2008 elections.

"I don't know if [the claims] were true then," she told me. "But they certainly are not true now."

Connor went point by point over the allegations. She said the county does segregate vote totals in its final canvass of the results, which is then sent to the Board of Supervisors. She sent me a sample of the canvass from 2006 showing this. The information is available through a public records request, but the county does not post the entire canvass online.

Pollworkers are being instructed to sign the poll tapes, Connor said. And ballot material will be transported by at least two individuals. She stated that the poll tapes are placed in secure, sealed envelopes, and that observers are allowed to look at and photograph these results tapes, but they would only be allowed to do so one hour after the polls close, to comply with state law regarding the release of election results.

Access to the ballot tabulating center's small computer room is restricted, but observers can watch through the room's window along the wall, she said. (You can see a live feed from the ballot tabulating center, here.)

As for the most troubling allegation concerning the transmission of electronic results through the Internet, Connor described how memory packs from the Sequoia-manufactured voting machines are taken to one of 22 receiving sites and read by a laptop. She said the information is then sent over an analog phone line using Sequoia's software, and that the information is password encrypted.

(Note: Sequoia was recently acquired by Dominion Voting Systems, which has offices in Denver, New York and Toronto.)

Black Box Voting's Jim March, one of the plaintiffs' investigators, contested this, saying that a temp staffer from the 2008 election told him that the county had software for a cellular modem on at least one of the county's 2008 laptops.

Referring to access to the computer room, March complained that he cannot properly observe what's going on in the room through its window. He said that he was once yelled at for attempting to use a pair of binoculars to watch what was going on inside.

(Connor told me March would be allowed to use binoculars this time around. Score one for the Libertarians.)

Asked why they waited until just days before the primary to file their suit, plaintiff John Brakey said he and March were only recently asked to be observers for the Libertarian Party in the upcoming elections, and then began their digging.

"We went through our old notes," he said, "and talked to others who had recent contact with [Maricopa County Elections] as either observers or staff. We then asked an important question...basically, `We know this stuff is stupid, but is it also illegal?'"

He continued: "What we found was that it was systematically illegal top to bottom."

One intersting aside concerns the Sequoia touch voting screens. There's one at each polling place, and they are used mainly by folks with impaired vision.

Apparently, these machines can be hacked. In fact, a couple of university professors went so far as to demonstrate that they could even play Pac-Man on the machine. They do admit it took them a couple of afternoons to make this happen.

However, March says the machines could be hacked within a matter of minutes.

Connor countered that there are bar code seals on the touch voting machines to prevent tampering.

In the 2006 general election, there were 303 touch screen votes recorded out of a total of about 900,000 votes cast. In the 2008 general election, 165 voters used the touch screen devices, out of more than a million votes cast.

Brakey said their concerns about the touch screens were not in the lawsuit because the issue involves such a small percentage of total votes cast.

Considering the fact that the primary is this Tuesday, August 24, it seems unlikely that Brakey, March and the others will get their day in court before that. But if they do, I'll let you know what happens.

(You can find more information about the issues involved through the blog AuditAZ, and through

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