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Election officials in Arizona refuse to answer Senate questions

By Michael Shelby, Arizona Citizens for Election Reform  Posted by Joan Brunwasser (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   No comments
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I've been through two wars, been to a county fair, and watched a goat roping but I've never seen anything like the Senate hearing at the Arizona State Capitol today. Today's hearing, rescheduled by Senator Jack Harper (R) Chairman of the Senate Committee On Government Accountability And Reform, sought to clarify election integrity issues (see, Election Integrity in Arizona is a Bi-Partisan Reform, involving mysteriously appearing votes in a 2004 Republican primary election. Chairman Harper's subpoena overcame a questionable refusal to appear by County Attorney Andrew Thomas. Defying the subpoena issued by Chairman Harper could have brought contempt charges against Thomas and Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell and Elections Director Karen Osborne whom Thomas had earlier enjoined not to appear. Watching with incredulity at the proceedings were several election integrity activist groups, some lobbyists for electronic voting machines, a representative of Arizona Clean Elections, print, television, radio, and independent media, family and many other concerned citizens. Interest in election integrity has grown in Arizona around what may make Maricopa County, the fourth largest county in the country, the poster child for election fraud. The hearing room was filled to overflowing requiring a partition to be opened to accommodate the increasing observers.

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 (, by Sen. Harper's research analyst, Kimberly Martineau. Ms. Martineau's 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 haven't 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 I've just skimmed, cough, over the top." However, it seemed as though we had really journeyed through the looking glass as Ms. Osborne's testimony laid out, in detail, as stated in Dr. Jones report, unintentionally I'm 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 wasn't 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 didn't 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 won't be the same. That's 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 about the whereabouts of the ballots in question and their storage conditions, Ms. Osborne launched into a fantastic description of a cement block house somewhere, she wasn't sure where (confirmed now by County Treasurer David Schwiekert that the ballots are not in the County Treasurer's vault which is required by law), that had no windows or air conditioning and that the ballots were being subjected to temperatures of over 200 degreesF and the humidity and the ballots could be unreadable by now some sixteen months after the election!

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 Osborne's blatant dodging of a simple question.

Round Two

The not so artful question dodging was then displayed by Maricopa County Recorder, Helen Purcell. To say that she came to the podium posing as a "dittohead" saying, "What she said," would be just a bit, but not much of, an oversimplification. In fact, when asked some of the same questions Ms. Purcell either plaintively turned to Ms. Osborne, who reports to her, or simply didn't know the answer to questions she should have. Ms. Osborne didn't help her boss' seeming incompetence much when she leapt from her seat, rushing to the podium a number of times to rescue Ms. Purcell from questions she hadn't a clue about. When asked by Chairman Harper if she had read the Jones report Ms. Purcell, like Ms. Osborne, hemmed and hawed before saying, "No, no she hadn't." I'll bet you my first born child that the introductory briefing given by Chairman Harper's research analyst was the most in-depth reading of the Jones report that either of these two senior elections officials in Maricopa County had ever done. Recalling my previous life in "Corporate World," had I delivered such a stunning display of incompetence and ignorance of the facts before senior management with the value (in this case the trust of the people) of the company at stake in a major presentation such as at this Senate hearing, I would have been given a cardboard box and escorted out of the building by the end of business.

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 Harper's subpoena power, resoundingly dismissed by the Senate Ethics Committee just two days before. Thomas questioned the independence of Dr. Harper's 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 wouldn't 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 Harper's 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. Harper's 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 didn't 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, "It's 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 don't 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 aren't) 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 didn't 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 I've written today is meant to be an entertaining, informative, incredulous, first-person description of today's Senate hearing. To understand how really horrible this story is becoming and the dangerous ramifications of new revelations, read John Dougherty's 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
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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