One Damn Thing After Another: More Mix-Ups in Pima County’s Election

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 Continue reading

RTA Polls Showed Voters Would Approve Sales Tax

The election-integrity gang that has cooked up the notion that the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election was rigged cites a key piece of “evidence” in their arguments.

They claim that polls before the election showed the RTA propositions, which approved both a transportation plan and a half-cent sales tax to pay for it, were going down to defeat.

Attorney Bill Risner, who has led the charge against the RTA, admitted a few weeks ago that he had never seen the polls that he’s citing.

“I’m basing it on information from individuals that I find credible who have told me what they believe—and were told—those poll results were,” Risner says.

That got us wondering: Just what did those polls show?

So we called political consultant Pete Zimmerman, who ran the campaign promoting the RTA campaigns. Zimmerman was kind enough to share the results of tracking polls from the RTA election with us.

Guess what? They never showed the RTA propositions losing, although support dropped as Election Day approached.

The surveys, which were done by polling firm Marketing Intelligence, show that back in December 2005, 63 percent of the voters favored the proposition, while 23 percent were opposed and 13 percent were undecided. Zimmerman says that’s typical of past transportation sales-tax proposals in Pima County, which tend to start out strong and then lose support as opponents stab it with their steely knives.

Support for the proposition remained above 50 percent until the beginning of May 2006; about 25 percent of surveyed voters were opposed, while the other fourth were undecided.

The worst day for the sales-tax proposition came on May 6, when 42 percent supported it and 33 percent opposed it (with 25 percent undecided). But the gap began widening the next day and by May 13, 46 percent supported the proposition, 27 percent were opposed and 27 percent were undecided.

The numbers were so consistent by then that the pollsters predicted the sales tax would have the support of somewhere between 57.3 percent and 66.3 percent of the voters on Election Day.

The actual result on May 16, 2006: The proposition passed by 57.6 percent.

ScrambleWatch Q&A: Republican Ann Day on Election Integrity

Republican Ann Day, who is seeking a third term on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, is facing a challenge in the Sept. 2 GOP primary from businessman Joe Higgins.

At first you voted against the release of the election database files requested by the Pima County Democratic Party. Then you changed your mind and even the election integrity folks changed their tune about you and publicly thanked you for your support. What happened?

I think I followed the advice from the IT Department and the County Attorney. We were told there were security issues. At first I went on the advice I was given. Then it made its way through the court system I began to recognize that security wasn’t really at issue, and if others are still concerned about that I think we’ve made changes in our procedures to make sure our elections are secure.

You know, we even turned to the Secretary of State’s office for advice and got nowhere. I even turned to my own Republican Party.

What area of transparency do you think the county needs to continue improving?

I think we’ve come a long way regarding transparency when I first came to the board. But I see there is more to change in the way to conduct our budget. We need to Continue reading

The Boondocks Affair, Part 2: Zbig Reveal

We reported last week that attorney Bill Risner had unveiled an affidavit from Zbigniew Osmolski, a former county employee who said under oath that Bryan Crane, a programmer in the county’s elections division, confessed to him that he has flipped the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election at the order of his bosses.

Osmolski said in his sworn statement that the alleged exchange took place at the Boondocks Lounge on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008.

We haven’t been able to get a hold of Osmolski–he hasn’t returned our phone call–but through a public-records request, we did get a hold of his county personnel file, which shows he could be quite a character when he was working for the county.

Osmolski was fired in 2002 for insubordination after he was busted drinking on the job. Among the details in the file:

• Osmolski refused to take a blood-alcohol test after his supervisor believed she smelled alcohol on his breath. She was checking on Osmolski after hearing that he smelled of booze and had grabbed the hand of a co-worker in the elevator because “he liked” to hold her hand.

Osmolski’s notice of dismissal notes that his supervisor “had verbally counseled you to not drink before coming to the office or any public meeting where you represented the county. She stated that citizens had complained to her that you attended meetings reeking of alcohol and were obnoxious and belligerent in meetings.”

• Osmolski tried to explain his intoxicated state by claiming that he was taking prescription pills and wearing cologne with an aroma of alcohol. Osmolski could not produce a prescription or a sample of his eau de booze in a subsequent investigation.

• Osmolski had been reprimanded in 1995 for losing a county-issued car Continue reading

Nucleus Meltdown: A Not Quite LiveBlog of the Debate Between Democratic Candidates for the Pima County Board of Supervisors

Two incumbents on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, District 3’s Sharon Bronson and District 2’s Ramon Valadez, met their respective Democratic challengers, Donna Branch Gilby and Robert Robuck, at a meeting of the Pima County Democratic Party’s Nucleus Club last week. Supporters cheered and applauded; critics booed and hissed. Here’s a recap of the raucous caucus.

6:01 p.m.: Moderator Ash Silverberg introduces the candidates. Pima County Supervisor Ramon Valadez talks about growing up in Pima County and getting his start in politics when he interned for Dan Eckstrom, the previous District 2 supervisor and kingpin of southside politics. Valadez mentions that he also served in the Arizona Legislature and as an aide to Gov. Janet Napolitano. He says the county has made a lot of progress with conservation, sustainability and transportation. He gets big applause.

6:04 p.m.: Robert Robuck explains that he moved to Sahuarita from California because his wife grew up here. He says he got worried about local politics when he learned about plans to mine copper in the Santa Rita Mountains. Robuck decided to run for office when Valadez wouldn’t return his call regarding the mining proposal. He mentions that election integrity is a big issue in his campaign. The crowd goes wild with applause.

6:07 p.m.: Donna Branch-Gilby says she running against Bronson “because it was time to stop asking, stop lobbying, stop explaining about the necessity of really being sure we had an accurate election in a democracy and it was time to do something about it.”

Branch-Gilby gives props to Bronson for her work on the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan before calling Bronson “the leading obstructionist” on the election-integrity issue. She also complains that Continue reading

RTA Big Reveal: The Boondocks Affair

After spending much of yesterday talking to lawyers, we think we have a better understanding of the fight to preserve the ballots from the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election, which Pima County Treasurer Beth Ford has said she is ready to destroy.

We’ll get to the part about how secrets may or may not have been spilled at the Boondocks Lounge in a second, but here’s a bit of background for those who came in late: In May 2006, Pima County voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund an estimated $2.1 billion in transportation projects over two decades.

Attorney Bill Risner, who has successfully sued Pima County to gain access to electronic databases related to ballot tabulation, suggested last year that the RTA election might have been flipped—that county election officials rigged the computers to show the RTA propositions passed even though voters actually rejected it.

Since then, we’ve had an investigation by Attorney General Terry Goddard (which critics have dismissed as a “sham”) and lots of legal jousting by Risner and the Pima County Attorney’s Office, which reached a climax when the Pima County Board of Supervisors agreed to give up an appeal of the case and turned over the databases to Risner. Or, more accurately, offered to turn them over to Risner, who has been too busy to pick them since winning the case

You’re probably wondering: Why not just recount the ballots? Because state law prohibits the county from doing a recount without a judge’s order.

We’re almost to the part about the Boondocks, so stay with us.

But before we get to that: Jim March, the tech guy with the election integrity crew, says he’s been working on developing a program that might (or might not) detect any signs of fraud in the RTA database he got from the county back in January. He said yesterday that he hoped to have some results by November.

March made his comments at Risner’s press conference, where the scrappy attorney alerted the public that Pima County Treasurer Beth Ford was planning to destroy the ballots Continue reading

UPDATE: Pima County Treasurer Beth Ford: There Is A Plan To Destroy RTA Ballots

Pima County Treasurer Beth Ford says she sent notice to the political parties last month that she would be destroying the 2006 RTA ballots unless she heard an objection by Friday, July 11.

Ford says she has held off on following the state law that requires the destruction of ballots six months after an election because the ballots were considered evidence in a lawsuit filed by the Pima County Democratic Party regarding whether electronic databases were public record.

“Now I’m stuck in a position where, ‘What do I do with the ballots?'” Ford says. “Now I’m violating state law because I didn’t destroy them. So I’m stuck in catch-22.”

Ford said that after consulting with the County Attorney’s Office, she sent notice to the political parties on June 27 that she planned to destroy the RTA ballots, which are now in storage. She gave the political parties until Friday, July 11, to raise an objection.

“If I receive an objection, then I can go to the courts so the courts can tell me what I’m supposed to do,” Ford says.

Ford says she did not consult with Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry about destroying the ballots.

She says she has no position on whether the ballots should be destroyed.

“It’s fine with me if we keep them,” she says. “It’s fine with me if we destroy them.”