If this were medieval England, John Brakey and his fellow election-integrity activists would have Pima County elections director Brad Nelson’s head on a platter, probably garnished with the fingers of County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and county information-technology chief John Moffatt.
OK, let’s not go too far. What the activists really want is Nelson to lose his job. But since Huckelberry is in charge of personnel and is Nelson’s supervisor, the chances of that happening are nil. And that comes straight from Huckelberry’s mouth.
“Lynchings were outlawed long ago,” Huckelberry says.
What started the latest high-tech lynching attempt of Nelson was the arrest of AuditAZ’s John Brakey, who was working on Sept. 6 as an observer for the Democratic Party during a post-primary ballot hand-count and audit. According to the arrest report, Brakey was told by Nelson to stop talking to the people who were doing the hand-count.
After Republican observer Judi White complained to Nelson, Nelson asked Brakey to stop and to bring any questions directly to him. Brakey didn’t stop; Nelson told him to leave; Brakey didn’t leave; Nelson had him escorted from the counting area by a Pima County sheriff’s deputy. The deputy asked Brakey to leave, but he wouldn’t, and told the deputy he wanted to be arrested.
The deputy cuffed him (with his hands in front of his waist because of an arm injury Brakey was still on the mend from) and took him downstairs. The deputy cited Brakey with criminal trespass in the second degree, took the cuffs off and gave Brakey his phone to call his attorney.
It’s worth noting that the deputy turned down Brakey’s request to cuff him again and take a picture of him with his cell-phone camera, according to the arrest report.
Brakey then called a press conference on Thursday, Sept. 11, attended by a gaggle of other political activists, from Libertarians to Democrats (although Pima County Democratic Party Chair Vince Rabago was nowhere to be seen). It was touted that Republicans were involved, too, but their mainstream leadership was noticeably absent.
Republican Brad Roach emceed the event (conveniently mentioning his race for Pima County attorney); Republicans Barney Brenner (who is challenging Supervisor Sharon Bronson in the general election) and former state Rep. Randy Graf were in the audience, along with Democrats Donna Branch-Gilby, who unsuccessfully challenged Bronson in the primary, and attorney Bill Risner.
The event was used as a platform to call for Nelson’s resignation and to call attention to the broken ballot-bag seals discovered during the hand audit. Activist Jim March said he identified eight precincts with serial-number mismatch issues and broken seals on ballot bags. March called the problems sloppy and unprofessional, but didn’t dismiss the potential for fraud.
Trent Humphries, who narrowly lost a GOP House of Representatives primary, was at the press conference; he found himself surrounded by activists asking him to contest his race. The goal was to keep election results from being certified by the Board of Supervisors on Friday, Sept. 12. Brakey also told Humphries, who lost by 50 votes to second-place finisher Marilyn Zerull, that it was the patriotic thing to do.
Humphries smiled and looked down; he didn’t wind up contesting his race.
But the election-integrity activists did show up at the Board of Supervisors meeting and asked supes to delay the certification and to do another audit–specifically, an audit of a Board of Supervisors race, such as the contest between Branch-Gilby and Bronson.
They also asked for an investigation into wrongdoing in Nelson’s office, based on the serial-number mismatches and the broken ballot-bag seals.
The supes certified the election; however, Chairman Richard El�as did call for an investigation into possible wrongdoing on Nelson’s part regarding the broken seals. He also requested that any other allegations from election-integrity activists be addressed by the county’s newly formed Elections Integrity Commission.
Several days later, things got even more contentions. On Monday, Sept. 15, Brakey and Jim March sent out a press release claiming that the county had stolen the hard drive that’s been stored in a Pima County Superior Court vault while the Democrats and the county argued over how the remaining election database files awarded to the party were going to be transferred. The Democrats and the county also argued over whether a security code was going to be put on the files to make sure the original election database files could be easily identified, so that no file tampering could take place in the future by the county or election-integrity folks.
On Aug. 27, the court–which earlier determined the database files were public records and therefore awarded them to the Democrats after Risner sued the county–told the county to allow the party to have their hard drive without the security codes or any turnover process. Election-integrity activist Mickey Duniho contacted Moffatt via e-mail on Sept. 14 to coordinate putting the codes on the hard drives anyway, and said that the Democrats would be picking up their hard drive.
But Moffatt wrote back saying that the county had its hard drive, and that a clerk had confirmed that Risner had already picked up the Democrat’s hard drive. Election-integrity activists freaked out–an understandable response, considering Risner had not picked up the now-missing hard drive.
By midday Monday, however, nerves were calmed–somewhat–when it was discovered that Moffatt had inadvertently picked up both hard drives, because they had been sealed in one box. Election-integrity activists backtracked a bit from their theft claims, though they still contend that Moffatt must have known he had both hard drives the whole time.
Brakey’s latest e-mail indicated that nothing seemed to be wrong with the Democrats’ hard drive; the evidence seals were still there, and it didn’t seem like the drive had been anywhere near a magnet or an MRI machine. (Huckelberry does not have an MRI machine behind his desk, despite what some activists may believe.)
Considering what an utter mess this has all been, it begs the question: What will happen come November and the general election? Will Brakey be allowed to be an observer? Brakey seems to think that once the trespass charge is dismissed, he’ll be observing; Huckelberry says he’s not so sure. Until the charges are adjudicated, he feels Nelson had every right to ask Brakey to leave, and that is something they will consider if the Democratic Party wants Brakey to observe again.
“Poll-worker jobs are hard enough … but the work on the hand audit is serious and tedious. It’s not as if you can be distracted, because it’s important,” Huckelberry says.
“Brakey’s arrest was a last resort,” Huckelberry continues. “Brad didn’t want or ask for him to be arrested. He just didn’t want him there during the hand count and to stop bothering that process.”
Huckelberry says this was the first election during which he did not get a single complaint about poll-worker misbehavior or people being turned away due to improper identification. Still, he says, the investigation called for by El�as will be taken seriously, and there will be further training for poll workers regarding proper documentation and bag-sealing.
Even Nelson says he thinks the questions raised by the election-integrity folks are legitimate, but that his first priority was to make sure the audit continued uninterrupted.
“Mr. Brakey was being disruptive, which was different from 2006, when he was an observer, and back then, he did direct his questions to me and to the board,” Nelson says. “This time, I asked him to stop, and he did not. One of the things I’ve discussed with Mr. Brakey is that I think we all have the same goal. But I don’t think we’re going to get there when the criticism is personal.”