Ballot Box Breakdowns

An independent voting-technology expert finds serious problems in the Maricopa County Elections Department

Osborne said glitter pens, gel pens and black felt-tipped pens were particularly troublesome for the county's Optech 4-C scanning machines.

Jones' tests on the voting machines found that the opposite of what Osborne claimed under oath was true.

"The sensitivity test showed that these machines are extraordinarily sensitive to black pencil, to ink from a Jelly Roll brand blue glitter pen and to black ink from a Sanford Sharpie Extra Fine Point pen. With these pens and pencils, the Optech 4-C scanner would pick up and count as a vote even a single dot," Jones' report states.

Clockwise from bottom: County Attorney Andy Thomas, County Recorder Helen Purcell, House Speaker Jim Weiers, Senate President Ken Bennett, and County Elections Director Karen Osborne.
Mark Poutenis
Clockwise from bottom: County Attorney Andy Thomas, County Recorder Helen Purcell, House Speaker Jim Weiers, Senate President Ken Bennett, and County Elections Director Karen Osborne.

Jones says in the interview that "the blue glitter pen was more reliably scanned than any pen I tried."

The marking utensils best read by the machine used for the early ballots were No. 2 pencils and black ballpoint pens, Osborne has said repeatedly.

Jones, however, found serious problems with both of these instruments. Jones discovered that even tiny specks of lead from No. 2 pencils could be counted erroneously as votes.

"It's not a good idea to adjust machines to be so sensitive that they pick up fly specks of lead as votes," Jones says.

Votes cast with black ballpoint pens were least likely to be detected, Jones says.

The county "shouldn't have given instructions to voters that led the voters to make marks that [voting officials] can't guarantee will be read," Jones says. "My measurements show they really can't guarantee [the machines] will read a Bic black ballpoint."

Jones also criticized the county's written directions on ballots instructing voters to draw a single line between arrows marked on the ballots when casting a vote. Single lines drawn with blue and black pens, he says, are not dark enough for the county's voting machines to consistently detect.

"Requesting a dark mark instead of a single line would encourage voters to make marks that would be far more likely to be counted," Jones' report states.

Not only has the county been providing incorrect instructions on how to mark early ballots, its Optech 4-C scanners used to count early ballots are not calibrated equally, Jones says.

During his tests, Jones found that two of the six scanners he examined were less sensitive to marks made by blue and black ballpoint pens than the other four machines.

The county's incorrect instructions to voters combined with the inconsistent calibration of scanners could have resulted in the sudden increase in votes detected between the District 20 primary and the recount, he says.

If a sufficient number of ballots in District 20 were cast where voters used black and blue ink pens to draw single lines, and if those ballots were run through a less sensitive Optech 4-C scanning machine during the primary, Jones says the votes may have gone undetected.

And, he says, if those same ballots were then run through a more sensitive Optech 4-C machine during the recount, the uncounted votes may have suddenly appeared.

"An examination of a random sample of the actual . . . Republican early voting ballots from the election would allow this hypothesis to be confirmed or ruled out," Jones states in the report.

"If the examination shows that a sufficient percent of the ballots were marked with a single stroke using a ballpoint pen, as opposed to use of pencil or votes cast with a deeply scribbled mark, this hypothesis would become more likely."

Jones also says visual inspection of the ballots would very likely provide conclusive evidence of whether the ballots were tampered with between the primary and the recount.

Osborne testified during the September 23, 2004, recount hearing before Judge Ballinger that the District 20 ballots were handled and sorted without first notifying the candidates, who are entitled by law to be present during that endeavor.

This unsupervised handling "may have created an opportunity . . . to surreptitiously add marks to ballots," Jones' report states. "I want to emphasize that I do not allege that any such ballot alteration occurred, only that the opportunity may have existed."

Jones says the characteristics of the District 20 race made it ripe for tampering.

Voters were asked to vote for two of the five Republican candidates running for seats in the state House. In some instances, voters either voted for no one or only one of the candidates. Such ballots are called "undervotes."

It would have been possible during the handling of District 20 ballots between the primary and the recount, Jones says, for somebody to have sought out the undervoted ballots and added new votes to them.

Jones also notes that nearly all of the votes that suddenly appeared in the recount were on ballots that were counted as undervotes in the primary.

So as not to attract attention to any tampering, Jones says, hundreds of ballots would have had to be altered and all five candidates would have needed to receive additional votes. The recount showed that the 489 new votes were spread across all five candidates.

"If someone [were] in a hurry to surreptitiously alter large numbers of ballots, I would expect them to mark those ballots all with the same pen or pencil and to make no serious effort to match the style of marks made by the original voter," Jones states.

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