The last time I saw a group of people self-destruct like this in front of an audience was when I was at the circus where I watched one of those little clown cars come careening out from the curtains, squishing through the elephant dung, crashing into the center ring, and sending them flying in all directions.
First up was a summary presentation of the report by elections expert, Dr. Douglas Jones from the University of Iowa (www.cs.uiowa.edu/~jones/), by Sen. Harpers research analyst, Kimberly Martineau. Ms. Martineaus PowerPoint presentation deftly and clearly explained the major conclusions from Dr. Jones report in which he concluded that, Without empirical examination of a random sample of voted ballots, there is no way to decide . . . [if] the ballots have been altered . . . [or] that ballots were miscounted by poorly calibrated machines. Professor Jones went on in his report to say, Election officials appear to lack fundamental knowledge of how their election machinery operates . . .. Which brings us to the first unsworn testimony of the day by Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne. Ms. Osborne, who looks for all the world like a kindly grandmother straight out of central casting, began by taking questions from Chairman Harper. Chairman Harper, who was exceptionally well prepared for his hearing and masterfully conducted the questioning bringing to mind a younger version of the late Senator Sam Irvin of Watergate fame. Sen. Irvin would play the country bumpkin backwoods lawyer role, disarming his prey before he ripped his adversary into tiny pieces. Chairman Harper, in a similar disarming way, asked the elections director, straight up, if she believed the elections of 2002 were honestly and accurately counted. She replied that yes, they were. Chairman Harper then asked about the elections in 2004 and received the same simple answer without explanation or qualification. The questioning of the witness by Chairman Harper, who was joined in the questioning by committee members Senator Thayer Verschoor (R) and newly appointed Senator Paula Aboud (D), then elicited some of the most uncanny and unintentional responses by Ms. Osborne.
I think Karen Osborne was sincere in the answers she gave to the Committee. When asked if she had read Dr. Jones report, remember the report that basically said you havent a clue about how to administer elections or what your job is, she paused and stammered out an answer like, Well, have I actually done an in-depth reading of the report, well, I uh, ahem, no, actually Ive just skimmed, cough, over the top. However, it seemed as though we had really journeyed through the looking glass as Ms. Osbornes testimony laid out, in detail, as stated in Dr. Jones report, unintentionally Im sure, what I can only say is one of the better arguments for why we should never vote on electronic voting machines again . . . ever! She was flummoxed into talking about how the different inks in pens could affect whether a machine would count a vote, if the machine was calibrated correctly, if the lens wasnt scratched or dirty, if the ballot was inserted sideways or upside down, something about paper weight and pencil erasures, and whether someone used crayon or eyebrow pencil or Sharpie® pens and that mail-in ballots were all weird because people used all sorts of things and didnt follow directions, etc., etc., etc. She compared the voting machines to a purchase of two cars, two Lexus no less, that everyone knows that two cars off the same factory line wont be the same. Thats right, Karen, I really want to enter the polling booth with my fingers crossed hoping that I got the good machine today. Maybe machines made on Wednesday are better than those on Monday or Friday and we could learn the serial numbers so we could . . . Oh, good grief!
When asked by Chairman Harper if she thought that the ballots should be allowed to be inspected, regardless of unknown alleged condition, Ms. Osborne paused and answered as though she were about to plead her 5th amendment rights. She took a breath then refused to answer the question. She instead referred the question to the County Attorney for an answer. Well, ya coulda heard a pin drop as the audience just stared in concerned amazement and perspicacity, instantly grasping the implications of Election Director Osbornes blatant dodging of a simple question.
The Main Event
Osborne and Purcell only set the stage for the real star of this theater of the absurd, County Attorney Andrew Thomas. By now the committee members expressions were ranging from passive attention to piqued interest. That would soon change to pissed-off incredulity at the performance of the County Attorney. Listening to Andrew Thomas answer questions was like trying to nail Jello® to a wall! The gallery and the committee strained rationality, reason, and finally their patience in trying to follow the twisted, circuitous, circular, obfuscations, and stonewalling answers given by Thomas. Chairman Harper began the questioning with Sen. Verschoor joining in providing intuitive and insightful follow-ups designed to elicit at least the semblance of a straight answer from Thomas. No luck! Mr. Thomas veered off into accusations of illegality in the use of Chairman Harpers subpoena power, resoundingly dismissed by the Senate Ethics Committee just two days before. Thomas questioned the independence of Dr. Harpers report erroneously citing that it was entirely paid for by an independent weeklyThe Phoenix New Times. In fact, Senate President Ken Bennet has picked up the expenses for the report with The Phoenix New Times only paying travel expenses. Thomas continued his obfuscating attack by trying to impugn the bone fides of Dr. Jones to which Chairman Harper stopped Mr. Thomas saying that, Dr. Jones qualifications as a recognized expert in electronic elections has been well established. Since he is not here to question your qualifications as an attorney, I will not allow you to question Dr. Jones qualifications. Mr. Thomas opined about what value would there be in inspecting the ballots (Like, maybe, finding the truth! And anyway, since the county elections officials have such true belief in their system, that the ballots have been honestly and accurately counted, why wouldnt Thomas want to get this monkey off his back?). In a display of contempt or ignorance of the numerous statements by all involved in this investigation, that it is not about changing the results of a legally certified election, that it is about the integrity of all elections themselves, Thomas droned that the effort and costs involved were not justified because the election could not be reversed anyway. Except for Chairman Harpers skilled management of the hearings, Mr. Thomas would have gone on ad infinitum, ad nauseum sticking to his strategy to deliberately say nothing of value to the committee.
Failing to elicit substantive answers from Thomas, Chairman Harper drilled Mr. Thomas about his sandbagging the Chairman when he previously sought to gain access to the ballots for Dr. Jones evaluation. In the early stages of his investigations Sen. Harper was told by County Treasurer David Schwiekert that he would not release the ballots without a court order. Sen. Harper was informed by County Attorney Thomas that he would not oppose a court order to obtain the ballots of the LD 20 primary. When the court order was filed some days later, the judge of the court informed Sen. Harper that the County Attorney was now standing in opposition to the order. In effect, County Attorney Andrew Thomas lied to Sen. Harper. Mr. Thomas has further gone on record with news media and anyone who would listen accusing Sen. Harper of bizarre and erratic behavior in a blatant attempt to marginalize Sen. Harpers investigation. Mr. Thomas vocalized his rants in whatever venue would report them. Asked repeatedly about his role in flip-flopping on the court order, Thomas tried to degrade the hearing into a display of invective and spleen. Chairman Harper admonished Thomas that, This is not about you. This is not about I (sic). This is not about the two candidates. This is about the integrity of elections! The audience erupted into applause.
Appealing to a nobler purpose by Chairman Harper didnt even phase Thomas outlandish and dubious strategy. He simply would not answer the question of the day asked repeatedly by Chairman Harper and Senator Verschoor, Will you allow inspection of the ballots? Thomas went round in circles charging that inspection of the ballots was at the direction of his clients, without naming his clients, who are the county elections officials, Osborne and Purcell. It was Osborne and Purcell who had originally referred answering the question to their attorney, who is Mr. Thomas. Repeatedly asked the question, Do you see any reason why the ballots should not be allowed to be inspected? by Sen. Verschoor and repeatedly led down circuitous paths nowhere approaching an answer to the question, Sen. Verschoor burst out exclaiming, Its a simple yes or no question, sir! Will you allow inspection of the ballots? Again, obstinate and unfazed, Mr. Thomas ducked the question. Owing to time constraints and other commitments, Chairman Harper gaveled the almost three hour hearing to a close with another hearing to be scheduled later.
The more I know, the more I know I dont know.
Why did three senior Maricopa County elections officials, one elected and two appointed, refuse to answer the essential questions of a Senate Committee On Governmental Accountability And Reform? What are they trying to hide, here? During the questioning, the requirements on how long ballots must be retained were discussed. For county elections the law states that the ballots must be saved for six-months, for federal elections, 22 months. So, the ballots are still available . . . or are they? No one is allowed to inspect them, to see if they are in the vault (which they arent) or in a secret secure location with Vice-President Cheney or where the Hell they are! Does the fact that there are other more significant candidates and offices on the ballot than a little ole Republican primary in a largely yuppie filled district have any sinister significance? Could other races be thrown into suspicion? Why is newly elected Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas willing to undergo closer and closer scrutiny and put his reputation on the line to block a puny primary recount? Why didnt Senate President Bennet just pony up for the project in the first place since it was clearly a good governance issue that could be politically advantageous and available on the cheap? We are not much closer to answers to those questions, but we may be uncovering a larger truth as we step back to see the whole board!
What Ive written today is meant to be an entertaining, informative, incredulous, first-person description of todays Senate hearing. To understand how really horrible this story is becoming and the dangerous ramifications of new revelations, read John Doughertys article in The Phoenix New Times, Ballot Boxing at
for a thorough analysis of an unfolding scandal of immense ramifications.
Michael Shelby of Arizona Citizens for Election Reform (ACER) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.