Article Image 2006 Arizona Campaign Sign


Written by Subject: Voting - Election Integrity
If you've ever wondered what it would look like if a state attorney general's office were to actually investigate a voting machine tampering incident, here's an up front an personal report on just that. This breaking report from Jim March, a founding member of the board of directors for Black Box Voting, reveals a lot. You may post comments here:

by Jim March

aka: The Official Chronicles Of The Bored To Tears

The total hand count of what are alleged to be the 2006 Pima County Regional Transportation Authority bond measure ballots are being counted right now in Maricopa County, Arizona. Eight teams of three people each (all Maricopa Elections Division employees) are doing the "sort and stack" method to pile ballots into three piles for each question.

It's impossible to state how tight the information flow is here. The process is non-transparent.

In broad strokes, the preliminary counts are being reported to match the official final totals from 2006. Ballot forensics are going to be a factor here, and the chain of custody of these ballots (read: are they even the original ballots?) is open to question.


For those just tuning in: This May 2006 bond measure involved $2 billion in transportation contracts, which in turn affected housing boom issues. There has been a ton of fraud in the now-gasping-for-air real estate boom; the question now is, was there fraud in the supports for that boom -- supports like transportation bonds?

A number of things about the RTA race raise eyebrows. The audit logs look funky, similar measures failed repeatedly in years past, records show that elections officials had cheat-peeked at absentee ballot totals a week before the polls closed, the head system operator was spotted referring to a Microsoft Access advanced programmer's manual while using the Microsoft Access-based Diebold central tabulator, and ballot chain of custody is as muddy as the Nueces River.

AZ Attorney General Terry Goddard finally took a serious role into investigating this election, resulting in the current hand-count. But the way he handled it violated every standard possible in election transparency, and continues to do so.

Goddard will tell you that he doesn't need to be transparent at all, because this isn't an election-related hand count. He's partially right: This hand count is connected to a criminal investigation aimed at the people who run elections in Pima County. But the problem is, Goddard's methodology in this investigation caused him to take personal control over the very public engine of Democracy.

No one person can ever be allowed to take that control with zero oversight or observation. It leads to dark places. When a single government official takes control over election information, even as part of an investigation, it's a step that imperils our right to self-government.


1) Over a month ago Goddard seized control over the ballots, storing them with zero oversight from political parties or citizen observers and, as far as we know, no oversight from any other government body. We still don't know where the RTA ballots vacationed while awaiting this hand count.

2) The ballots are now being counted by the Maricopa elections office in conditions designed to prevent observation – most particularly preventing any independent counts of the vote totals.


a) The AG's office told political parties to offer up three names for prospective observers to the hand count. From this pool of three possible candidates, the AG's office would select one participant per party. These Pima County observers would be required to travel each day for one week to Maricopa County -- over 120 miles away.

Democrats chose a retiree in his '70s over a younger lawyer with elections law experience. Fortunately the retiree is a very competent gent, though he's not a lawyer. The Libertarians submitted just one name (mine). The AG's office rejected me on "security" grounds citing the 2005 wrongful arrest I was subjected to in San Diego County Calif. -– never mind that those charges were dropped and changes to protect and improve observation procedures were instituted statewide in response to the wrongful arrest incident. In the AG's observer lottery, "may the most experienced observers lose."

b) The observers in the room aren't allowed pens, pencils, or any electronic note-taking gear. Mind you, this is a 100% hand count – electronic manipulation of computer results is not possible.

c) Even barred from the main counting area, I was not allowed to peer through the window until I was stripped of my cellular modem. Can't have those modems tapping into hand counter's brains now, can we? It seems they don't want live blogging going on.

d) We brought zoom lenses and spotting scopes. If we need to pack telescopes to invoke our right to self-government, I guess that's what we'll do. But then they aligned the counting tables sideways, in such a way that it was impossible for us to collect accurate documentation of the tallies.


I have with me a good lab-grade microscope. I've previously proven that 2006-era paper ballots (printed on offset printers) can be distinguished from more recent 1200 dpi laser printed ballots under a microscope. The bureaucrat running this thing (Arizona AG's office criminal division counsel Donald Conrad) told me he would not discuss forensics of ballots at all, or allow the microscope to be used in any fashion by anyone.

Ballot forensics will matter because the chain of custody was not tight enough to prevent forged fake ballots from being inserted into the stack post-election. In fact, the Pima County Democrats have now gone on record requesting public forensics on these three-year-old, well-traveled ballots.

The good news is that we have e-mails between Pima Elections and the ballot printing shop asking that extra (blank) RTA ballots be destroyed. These e-mails take place shortly after the election, before significant controversy erupted. Blank ballots present a risk in recounts, because one way to cheat a recount is by substituting newly filled-in blank ballots. The e-mails indicate that the blank ballots should have been destroyed; if the actions in the e-mails were carried through, it would be unlikely that either Pima Elections or ballot-printer Runbeck Election Services would have stashed away the 24,000ish blank ballots needed to swing the election.

No problem, though: Fake ballot generation is a piece of cake with the high-end Okidata "Ballot on demand" laser printer.(2) Pima and Maricopa elections offices know they can build inside ballot printing stations small enough to fit in a closet for a bit over $6k, or for an even smaller rental fee, or maybe just a wink and a returned courtesy.

Fake ballots leave a trail of bread crumbs: A genuine 2006-era RTA ballot would be offset-printed. Ballot-on-Demand laser printers scatter microscopic toner particles around their target printing areas. The effect can be seen with a good scope.

So, one wonders, will Goddard's office do any real ballot forensics, along with other obvious checks such as measuring the age of the inks?

There's no way to know – Goddard has taken sole control over the investigation, requiring us to transfer our self-governing powers, in the form of public oversight, to him.

And that's a problem.

(1) Diebold's election databases look secure, but once you open them in MS-Access all security vanishes. This is a known issue and MS-Access is NOT a certified election system product anywhere in the US.

(2) Easy enough: while the computer Runbeck supplies controls access to ballots, it can be disconnected and the printer run independently from any PC with the ballot image .PDF files on it.

Jim March is a member of the Board of Directors of Black Box Voting, and a member of the Arizona Libertarian Party election integrity committee.

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1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Ed Price
Entered on:

They seem to kiss up to the voters if it looks like they might lose the election. Then they mostly won't do the honorable thing of living up to what they are elected to do, or the thing of thanking the voters by doing what they know the voters would want them to do.