Observers Shut Out of Pima Recount

Attorney General's "criminal investigation" procedures break ballot custody and make meaningful public observation impossible

RTA Recount Situation Report: 3:00 p.m. Monday April 6th
(aka: “The Official Chronicles Of The Bored To Tears, Part One”)
by Jim March

A total hand-recount of what are alleged to be the ballots voted in the 2006 Pima County Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) bond measure election is being conducted as I write.

Eight teams of three people each (all Maricopa Elections Division employees) are doing the “sort and stack” method to pile ballots in three piles for each ballot question. It's impossible to overstate how tightly the information flow is controlled here, or how “nontransparent” the process is.

The “short form” is that the preliminary counts are matching the official final totals from 2006, in broad strokes.

“Ballot forensics” is going to be a factor here, and the chain of custody of these ballots (read: could they be fake?) is open to serious question.


For those just joining us: This bond measure of May 2006 involved $2 billion worth of transportation contracts, which in turn affected “housing boom” issues.  We now know there was a ton of fraud in the late lamented real estate boom; the question now is, was there also fraud in setting the preconditions for that boom, such as the RTA bond measure?

There are a number of reasons to suspect the RTA race was rigged.  In brief:  The audit logs looked very funky; similar bond measures had failed repeatedly in years past; Pima elections officials had illegally “peeked” into early voting results by printing tallies of the scanned-in mail-in ballots; the election department's chief systems operator was spotted referring to a Microsoft Access advanced programmer's manual while using the Diebold central tabulator;1 and much more. (See preceding article documenting this investigation history). 



Long-distance photo taken through a window with optical zoom, by Jim March

Red circles indicate voters' marked ballot selections.

AZ Attorney General Terry Goddard finally took a serious role by declaring the hand-count.  But the way he handled it violated every standard possible in election transparency, and continues to do so.

Goddard will tell you that he doesn't need to be transparent at all because this isn't an election-related recount.  He's partially right: this recount is connected to a criminal investigation aimed at the people who run elections in Pima County.

But the problem is, in order to treat these ballots the same way he would if, say, he raided the documents inside a crooked bank, he has to take sole control over the very engine of Democracy. He's set himself up to be the sole judge of what the people's will was in a real election. No one person can ever be allowed to take that control with zero oversight or observation. It leads to horrible dark places.

So What Has AG Goddard Done?

1. Over a month ago Goddard seized control over the ballots, taking them to points unknown and storing them in unknown conditions with zero oversight from any other government body, political parties or citizen observers. We still don't know where they “vacationed”.

2. They're now being counted by the Maricopa elections office in conditions designed to prevent observation –- most particularly preventing any independent counts of the vote totals.

These conditions include:

   a.  The AG's office told political parties to provide the names of three observers able to spent a week in Phoenix (120+ miles from Pima County) – and then the AG's office would pick the final participant. In the case of the Democrats, they picked a retiree in his '70s over a younger lawyer with elections law experience. Fortunately the retiree is a very competent gent, but he's not a lawyer. The Libertarians submitted just one name (mine) and the AG's office rejected me on “security” grounds citing the wrongful arrest I was subjected to in San Diego County CA in 2005 –- never mind that all charges were rapidly dropped, and that statewide changes to election observation procedures were instituted in direct response to my action. So Goddard's game is: Keep out as many knowledgeable observers as possible.

   b. The observers in the room aren't allowed any pens or pencils or any electronic note-taking gear. Mind you, this is a 100% hand count – electronic manipulation of people's brains is pretty unlikely.

   c.   Every kind of mobile communications device is barred from the main counting area. I was stripped of my cellular modem. They don't want rapid Internet news broadcasts of this event. (But they can't stop me from collecting news, leaving the area, and broadcasting from the parking lot).

   d.  Tables are aligned sideways to the viewing windows to make it hard to collect tallies with our various zoom lenses and spotting scopes.

The Microscope Fiasco

I have with me a good lab-grade microscope. I've previously proven that 2006-era paper ballots (printed on offset printers) can be distinguished from more recent 1200 dpi laser printed ballots under a microscope. The bureaucrat running this thing, Donald Conrad (criminal division counsel with the AZ AG's office) told me he would not discuss forensics of ballots at all, or allow the microscope to be used in any fashion by anyone.

Ballot forensics are going to matter because there a number of ways forged fake ballots could have been inserted into the stack post-election. The good news is that we have e-mail traffic between Pima Elections and the ballot printing shop ordering the extra ballots from the RTA election destroyed just over a month post-election -– long before significant controversy erupted. So it seems unlikely that either Pima Elections or Runbeck stashed away the 24,000-plus blank ballots that would be needed to swing the election.

A more likely approach to fake ballot generation is the high-end Okidata laser printer first demonstrated for “ballot on demand” purposes in 2007. This taught both Pima and Maricopa elections offices that they could build their own illicit ballot printing station for a bit over $6k, small enough to fit in a closet. Or just rent the regular “ballot on demand” system and subvert it to print extra ballots. Even the best laser printers scatter microscopic toner particles around their target printing areas. The effect is obvious under a good scope.


Will Goddard's office do any real forensics, along with other obvious checks such as measuring the age of the inks?  There's no way to know – Goddard has taken sole control over the investigation. He will thus personally decide how well democracy worked.

And that's a problem.


Jim March has worked the Pima RTA case for three years with EDA Investigator John Brakey.  Jim is on the board of directors of, is a member of the Arizona Libertarian Party election integrity committee, and...sigh...more. You get the idea : ). Email Jim at  this address 



1. Diebold's election databases look secure, but once you open them in MS-Access all security vanishes. This is a known issue and MS-Access is NOT a certified election system product anywhere in the US. In short, this was BAD.

2. Easy enough: Although the computer Runbeck supplies controls access to ballots, it can be disconnected and the printer run independently from any PC with the ballot image PDF files on it.