John Brakey Arrested While Officially Observing Count

While monitoring a handcount of ballots from the September 3rd Arizona primary, in his capacity as an official election observer for the Democratic and Libertarian parties, EDA Investigations Co-Coordinator John Brakey was arrested and ejected from the Pima County election headquarters on orders of Pima County Elections Director Brad Nelson.

Brakey had noticed that several of the incoming bags containing ballots from the precincts had unsecured or missing seals. The seal failures appeared to be the result of pollworkers not knowing how to properly lock them.

Brakey then wondered whether the serial numbers on the bag seals matched the serial numbers recorded by the precinct pollworkers when they sealed the ballots. One question led to another, and Brakey ended up in handcuffs.

Seal serial numbers are supposed to be recorded on yellow report sheets, called "End of Day Certification Reports." The certification sheets are supposed to be signed by all precinct pollworkers and included with the ballots inside the delivery bags. The bags are supposed to remain sealed until opened for counting at county election headquarters.

In one bag, instead of the signed official certification sheets, there was instead a slip of white paper with what Brakey said were "two illegible, scrawled signatures." Brakey watched Election Manager Brad Nelson read the slip, say he recognized who the two pollworkers were, and approve acceptance of that bag of ballots for counting.

Brakey found it rather remarkable that Nelson would be so familiar with the county's 3000 pollworkers that he could identify two of them by illegible scrawls on a slip of paper.

Brakey then began checking other incoming ballot bags. In the first 7 successive ballot bags he checked, the required yellow certification reports were missing. This included bags with open seals, as well as bags with seals intact.

As Brakey was speaking to members of the counting panels alerting them to his discoveries, Election Director Nelson came up to him and told him to leave.

Brakey replied that he was appointed to be an election observer and he intended to stay on the job until closing time at 1:00 a.m. Nelson told him to leave immediately or he would be arrested. Brakey refused. At that point a deputy sheriff present placed Brakey under arrest for trespassing, handcuffed him, and removed him from the building.

Once outside, Brakey requested his legally allowed phone call, and placed it to his attorney, Bill Risner. Word of Brakey's arrest immediately went out to the network of election integrity activists Brakey has built with the grassroots group AUDIT-AZ.

Shortly thereafter the county elections building was swarming with television news crews.

Published: 09.07.2008
Official boots observer over ballot-count queries
By Kimberly Matas

Questions about possible ballot tampering led to an observer's being handcuffed and escorted from the Pima County Elections Department on Saturday during the hand-count of ballots from Tuesday's primary election.

John Brakey, an observer representing the Democratic and Libertarian parties, was asked to leave the elections office at 3434 E. 22nd St., when he refused to stop questioning the people who were counting the ballots, said County Elections Director Brad Nelson.

Brakey is the co-founder of AUDIT-AZ, which stands for Americans United for Democracy, Integrity and Transparency in Elections.

Brakey said he became concerned about the veracity of the ballots when he found seven ballot bags from different precincts had been improperly sealed or had discrepancies between the seal and the paperwork in the ballot bag.

Nelson estimates incongruities were found with only two or three of 18 bags, likely caused by poll-worker errors on election night. At least one election-night receipt turned in by workers backed up Nelson's suggestion.

When he realized there were problems with some of the sealed bags, Brakey said he went to each panel of counters advising the Democratic and Libertarian representatives to be on the lookout for discrepancies. Brakey said he was asked to leave by Nelson as he was talking to the party representatives who were hand-counting ballots.

"My job is to, first off, make sure we have the number of people here to go ahead and do that count," Brakey said. "And secondly, to document and observe and ask questions."

Asking questions is appropriate, said Nelson, but inquiries should be directed to him and not to the ballot-counters.
"He refused to direct questions to me," Nelson said. That's when Brakey was asked to leave the building.

Brakey said Nelson threatened him with arrest if he did not leave.

"I said, 'I'm not leaving here unless I'm arrested. I have a job to do,' " Brakey said.

That's when an on-site Pima County sheriff's deputy handcuffed Brakey and escorted him from the building. He was cited for criminal trespass and released.

Former Arizona Rep. Ted Downing, a Tucson Democrat, was instrumental in drafting legislation in 2006 that requires automatic hand-counted audits following Arizona elections.

Downing was not at the elections office Saturday, but spoke with Brakey after he was forced off county premises.

"Somebody screwed up at seven different precincts or somebody tampered with the bags," Downing said. "Our elections in the county must be transparent, and that means the parties have the right to ask questions."

Nelson "has some answering to do as to what happened to those bags," Downing said.

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at 573-4191 or