by Denis Campbell —
For 36 hours, Pima County’s Democratic Party was led on a chase that would have either made The French Connection’s Popeye Doyle proud or retch in disgust.A computer hard drive purchased by the Party containing court-ordered copies of 1,300 Diebold GEMS election databases dating back to 2002 had sat sealed in a the Superior Court basement vault since January. It walked out of the Court’s double signed, sealed, and secured basement vault 12 minutes after the close of business on August 27th in the hands of a key County employee—and defendant in the case. (GEMS machine shown here.)
It finally wandered back into the courthouse at noon yesterday with the surrender of the drive to the plaintiff, ending an almost two-year-long court battle where the County fought its own majority party tooth and nail to stop the release eventually ordered by Judge Michael Miller.
The case centers on the handling and manipulation of the Diebold tabulation databases, voting machines, and polling procedures. These same machines are in place in thousands of jurisdictions across the America. Pima County Democrats are afraid this could happen anywhere—and indeed will—and are especially worried about the upcoming November 4 general election.
The chase was filled with drama and fear that the databases were somehow corrupted because the chain of custody was broken. But broken custody chains are nothing new for the either inept or shrewd County Elections Department.
A new furore grows over the recent primary election as ballots bags, paperwork, and seals from the field were broken, opened, incomplete, or incorrect. Indeed, every election has been the victim of sloppy field work or worse. This current dispute saw John R. Brakey, official Democratic and Libertarian Party election observer, arrested during a state-mandated hand recount of ballots.
Said Brakey, “I tried to get them to recount only the ballots for which the seals and paperwork were intact and they refused. I found it incredible that they would include ballots for which there are questions in the hand recount and then smugly certify the election.” The Board of Supervisors certified the primary election last Friday.
At midday yesterday, it was finally learned the hard drive was “inadvertently” in the possession of Pima County’s Office of Technology’s Dr. John Moffat. His story, like most delivered thus far, has enough plausibility to work and, on the surface, clear him personally. Yet many questions remain.
Bill Risner, Democratic Party attorney said, “it is stunning to me that someone can go to the courthouse vault and take out the other guy’s evidence.”
Said Moffat in his defence, “when I learned the judge had signed the order, our attorney said, ‘it’s over.’ I went over and told the clerk there were two drives in the vault and I only get one, mine. Earlier, there had been two boxes. I thought I only had mine and it sat in a locked file cabinet with seals intact until yesterday when we resolved and opened it.”
So, was it a repeat of a pattern of carelessness or criminal deception? Either way, this has hung like a cloud over this case from its inception. As one notably biased TV news network says, “We report, you decide.”
Bud Foster of Tucson CBS affiliate KOLD last night quoted Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll asking on camera, “How many times do you forgive these types of incompetent acts? Are they part of a conspiracy or are they part of a, you know, a Keystone Cops kind of elections division that started back in 2006 and has continued to this day?”
And the real question is what happens to the 2006 RTA ballots scheduled for destruction that could answer the fraud question once and for all? When will Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer—a prominent John McCain supporter located in his home state—or Attorney General Terry Goddard conduct a criminal investigation of vote fraud and election rigging and order a hand recount of those ballots compared to election machine tapes?
The hard drives and data were subject to Superior Court Judge Michael Miller’s clear order: “…the clerk of the Superior Court, shall transfer possession to plaintiff (Pima Democratic Party) the data-storage device owned by the plaintiff and presently in the custody of the clerk. The defendants, may take possession of their separate hard drive at the same time.”
And why is the custody chain so flimsy that anyone of seeming authority can waltz into the clerk’s office and walk out unchallenged with key evidence?
Calls to Judge Miller’s office, referred to Presiding Judge John Davis and Court Clerk Patricia Noland about evidence handling procedures, went unreturned.
While the Democrats were able, after downloading the data to a laptop, certify that everything was intact and appeared not to have been corrupted, more testing was needed. And in light of previous escapades, why was someone allowed to take vital evidence away for a two-week sleepover?
When I asked Bill Risner for a chronology of questionable incidents he pointed to the effort to block their request around the printed audit summary reports.
“Early on, when we wanted to know who was printing summary reports before Election Day, the county said they did not know. So we subpoenaed the recorded video from the cameras. The County delayed our request for 20 days, knowing the computer only held 20 days worth of tape and so it was therefore impossible to show who logged in that time.”
He then spoke of the phenomenal legal effort to prevent them getting these databases, “it was nothing short of amazing.” He estimated the County spent $1 million dollars. “They sent three lawyers to every deposition in an effort to grind our side down because we could not afford to fight them.” He alone had seen five different lawyers on the County’s case.
“The most damning though,” said Risner, “the AG’s Office ran the tests the County wanted them to run…there is a report the folks at (computer company) iBeta ran and when you look at the report, it’s clear John Moffat is steering everything towards a positive result for the County. Moffat suggested we check preference tables, but there a lot of other ways to rig the Diebold system and this was the least likely way. He always suggested tests they knew they could pass.”
So the County built their own program, analysed their own data and did not find anything wrong. They then had the AG Office issue a report saying “we’ve checked everything and its come up clean.”
Moffat deflected all criticism and was “hurt by the allegations made by the Democrats that he somehow damaged or manipulated the data drive” and dismissing all other charges as speculation. Pima County Elections Director Brad Nelson, as in all past attempts, refused to return phone calls, answer questions or otherwise be interviewed for this article.
“At the same time” seems to have a different meaning to County officials. Readers should demand answers of their own jurisdiction on summary reports and ballots handling. We’re 49 days away and counting. To let this most historic of elections hinge on dodgy technology with so many data holes and security problems is the real crime.
I still think Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle is an option. He’d start banging heads until he got answers.
That would be an extraordinary rendition many could support.
Denis Campbell is a US journalist based in the United Kingdom. He contributes to newspapers and magazines, is a BBC Radio election commentator and publishes the daily e-magazine The Vadimus Post from the Latin Quo Vadimus – where are we headed and do we know why?
Related stories by Dennis:
- The Election Rigging Story: Why Here, Why Now?
- It’s The Ballot Count, Stupid! Florida Déjà Vu in Tucson