Litmus Test

County Attorney Andy Thomas must prove he can protect our constitutional rights

A few minutes into an October 8 interview that was videotaped by the county's public information officer, Al Macias, Osborne admitted that she wanted to do a manual recount of the ballots -- even though she knew it was against the law.

"The law says if you count them on a machine, you recount them on a machine, and I understand that," she said.

Osborne explained that she wanted to skirt the law to expedite the recount process because she faced an imminent deadline to have ballots printed for the general election.

New county attorney Andy Thomas should hold Karen Osborne's feet to the fire.
New county attorney Andy Thomas should hold Karen Osborne's feet to the fire.
Karen Osborne
Jackie Mercandetti
Karen Osborne

She says a manual recount would have been faster than simply running all the ballots cast in the county through five optical scanners -- a process she says would have taken six days. The recount, whether it was manual or by machine, could not occur until after the primary election results were certified by the state on September 20.

Osborne also said she believed a manual recount would have provided a more accurate tally of the votes.

While Osborne's concerns may be legitimate, the planned manual recount still violated state law. It also led Osborne to order more than 30 workers to begin sorting through more than 300,000 primary ballots to pull out ballots from District 20. The sorting process began immediately after the September 7 primary and took about five days. The sorting may have damaged ballots, causing votes to appear that were not intentionally cast in the primary.

Osborne could have avoided any unnecessary handling of the ballots before the recount by simply running all 300,000 primary ballots through the optical scanning machines and let the computer sort out the District 20 ballots.

Secretary of State Brewer was livid about the county's plan to circumvent the law with a manual recount and rejected Osborne's plan on September 19. Brewer made her concerns known in a September 23 letter to Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, who is Osborne's boss.

"I would still appreciate if you would provide me an explanation why you felt the manual recount was necessary in the first place," Brewer wrote Purcell.

After the manual recount plan was shot down by Brewer, the elections department used optical scanning machines to conduct the recount on September 20. The machines needed only about 30 minutes to process the 17,000 ballots cast in the District 20 Republican primary.

That's when 489 new votes suddenly appeared -- with 464 of those votes appearing on early, mail-in ballots. Osborne blamed the sudden and mysterious increase on voters. Osborne says too many voters use improper marking devices at home, making it difficult for the machines to consistently detect votes.

But others say the sorting process could have contaminated some of the District 20 ballots with marks from other ballots. The optical scanners are so sensitive that they can detect tiny smudges and improperly register them as votes. The sorting process also could have provided an opportunity for ballot tampering -- something that Osborne says did not occur.

After learning he lost the recount by 13 votes, Orlich filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court seeking to have the recount nullified. The testimony in the one-day emergency hearing on September 23 clearly disturbed Judge Edward Ballinger.

Orlich's attorney, Lisa Hauser, presented evidence that showed one optical scanning machine was used to count nearly all the early ballots for the recount. That machine, Hauser said, had an 18 percent variation from the total number of votes cast on early ballots in the primary.

This shocking discrepancy, Hauser said, revealed a massive problem with the ability of Maricopa County to accurately count early ballots.

Judge Ballinger agreed.

"It means that if we want to have the most accurate elections, you would not permit early voting," the judge stated.

Ballinger's statement should send shivers down your spine.

About half of the votes cast in the November general election were on early ballots. If these ballots are fraught with problems and inaccuracies, the legitimacy of any election sanctioned by Maricopa County is brought into question.

Furthermore, there is ample evidence that elections director Osborne intended to circumvent state law to conduct the recount.

Thomas should immediately order a full-scale investigation of the county elections department and make the findings of the investigation public. The county attorney needs to remember that his job is to protect our constitutional rights -- not infringe upon them.

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