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Secretary of State not happy with county

Thelma Grimes // Published June 17, 2008 in Vail Sun Newspaper
Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer has expressed concern that Pima County's instituting new election procedures and taking action that goes beyond a judge's court order could set a bad precedent for the rest of the state.

In a letter to County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, Brewer said the county's plan to implement new election procedures is problematic, unnecessary, unjustifiable and nearly all of the proposed changes are completely different from every other county in the state.

"I have made it my top priority over the past five years to ensure that all elections conducted by our county election officials are run in a fair, orderly, accurate, secure and perhaps most importantly, uniform manner," Brewer said. "I have conducted an extensive review and examination of our election systems through the Brewer Voting Action Plan, successfully promoted legislation to provide additional layers of election security, and strengthened the security procedures set forth in the Secretary of State's Election Procedure Manual followed by all of our county election officers."

Brewer's 11-page letter goes further than just criticizing the new election plan created by Huckelberry. She also takes issue with an ongoing legal battle the county has been fighting with the Democratic Party over an election that took place in 2006.

In the lawsuit, Democrats were seeking the electronic records of the county's voting system and ballot tabulating procedures to look for irregularities that might point to vote tampering.

The Democrats won the legal battle, with a judge ordering the county to turn over the records.

Taking the order a step further, in early June, Ray Carroll of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, District 3, ordered that the county release more records than were required in the court order.

Carroll did not return the Vail Sun's call for comment.

"The court's clear finding in its earlier ruling was that the release of additional databases may increase the risk of the security breach in a future election," Brewer said. "Thus, all of your security recommendations mean nothing if the Pima County Board of Supervisors chooses to ignore the advice of its counsel and its own election experts. Quite simply, the Board's unilateral actions has placed all of our elections in jeopardy. I hope that the board will make future decisions involving election security based on sound reason and judgment and not as a result of pressure from a handful of rabble-rousers."

Joe Kanefield, the state elections director in Brewer's office, said besides questioning the Board of Supervisors' decision to turn over more records than required, they are also concerned with why the county did not try harder to fight the issue in court.

While county officials have said the Secretary of State did not give them advice or provide assistance as requested, Kanefield said Brewer's office did the exact opposite.

Kanefield said while the state could not get involved in the county court, on an appeal they advised Huckelberry and county attorneys that they could get involved because the decisions made would impact the entire state.

"It's just not true that we ignored them," Kanefield said. "They asked us to intervene and we just said we couldn't at the county level. We said from the start that the county has a capable defense and were more than capable to fight the suit at the county level."

Kanefield said they would have definitely got involved in the state's highest court, because this kind of decision could set a precedent in the future, where election data and records would be requested in other counties.

Kanefield said the problem is that after the county lost, it decided to turn over all of the records, rather than appealing as Brewer's office had advised. By not appealing, Kanefield said, the Attorney General's office and Brewer will never get a shot to defend the case.

"At this point, I can't help but conclude that the Pima County Board of Supervisors never intended to seriously defend the county against the lawsuit," Brewer said to Huckelberry. "I base this on the board's decision to ignore the court's order raising security concerns about releasing more information than was initially ordered by the court and then deciding on two separate occasions not to appeal the court's ruling.

"I seriously question the motives behind the decision not to appeal and I believe this was intentionally done to keep the statewide issues from being addressed by the courts. The county apparently cares little about the effect its actions have on the state as a whole."

Due to concerns raised in the 2006 election and questions over voter tampering, Huckelberry rolled out a $10 million renovation to the county elections procedures.

Kanefield said the state's highest election office has numerous concerns with Huckelberry's plan, noting that they appear to be taking the county back a step, rather than moving it forward.

One of the areas of concern is how ballots will be counted. Early ballots will not be counted until the day of the election, and on election night, all votes would be tallied at headquarters, rather than each precinct reporting the results.

In a county as large as Pima County, Kanefield said this will delay election results.

In regards to discontinuing the transmission of results from polling places, Brewer said, "This may be the worst recommendation contained in your report. Not only will discontinuing the modern transmission of results substantially delay the reporting of unofficial results on election night. It actually introduces major security vulnerability into the election process. This is a poorly thought out recommendation and Pima County needs to reverse the practice just as quickly as the knee-jerk decision was made to implement it in the first place."

Brewer took issue with many other aspects of the county's plan and gave her recommendations throughout the letter.

When asked if the county will have to follow the recommendations made by Brewer, Kanefield said in some instances definitely.

"In some instances they can't act unilaterally," he said. "There are state election guides that require uniformity. Some of their plans go beyond their administrative capabilities and would violate state law."

How ballots are to be tabulated is one example of it, Kanefield said. Giving the 2002 Presidential election as an example, the election director said vote tallies in Florida became a major issue in declaring whether or not George Bush or Al Gore had won the state.

"There was no uniformity in how counties were hand-counting ballots," Kanefield said. "The state has to have policy in place to prevent this from happening."

Brewer said the state has procedures in place that go above and beyond what is necessary to secure an election and those procedures should not be changed.