Pandora's Box

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A month after Thomas punted, Senator Harper requested under the Arizona Public Records Law that the county produce dozens of documents related to the recount. In his June 8 letter to the elections department, Harper made it clear that he was deeply concerned about the county's possibly engaging in the "cover-up" of an election "scandal."

Harper wrote: "There are also distressing issues of how the county handled the recount and of how it represented the scandal to public officials and the public. The time has long passed to identify the cause of the new votes and to hold all those responsible for the error or its cover-up accountable."

This issue extends far beyond the outcome of the District 20 Republican primary, where John McComish went from four votes behind Anton Orlich after the primary votes were counted to 13 votes ahead after the recount. McComish was declared the winner and went on to take the general election. McComish is now entering the second year of his first two-year term in the House.

The sudden appearance of 489 votes between the primary and the recount raises serious questions about the integrity of all elections held in Maricopa County. But instead of providing answers about how this could have happened, the county elections department is getting helped out of its jam by none other than the Arizona Speaker of the House.

While Weiers' brazen attempt to strong-arm Harper into dropping his investigation failed, it wasn't for a lack of trying.

Rumors circulating through the Legislature about the June 16 meeting cast an even darker cloud over the recount.

Sources close to Harper told me that during the course of their meeting, Weiers offered Harper a business opportunity with the Republican party if Harper agreed to back off his recount inquiry.

"[Harper ] told at least two people that he was offered a quid pro quo," says a prominent Republican, who asked not to be identified, but who has had several conversations with Harper about the June 16 meeting.

Weiers vehemently denied making any such offer to Harper.

"That is just an out-and-out lie!" Weiers said.

But when I asked Harper in early October whether anyone offered him a job with the Republican party in exchange for backing off his probe into the county elections department, the state senator dropped a powerful hint that such an offer had been made.

"I'll neither confirm nor deny who it may have been," he said.

At the time, I only knew that Harper supposedly had been pressured by at least one unknown high-level Republican leader to back off his investigation. Only later did I learn that Harper had met with Weiers and McComish to discuss his recount probe.

In subsequent interviews with Harper, the senator softened his tone about the meeting.

"Nobody said to me that if I . . . back off of this, I would be offered a job at the Republican party," Harper said.

I then asked him what, if anything, was presented to him during the meeting in exchange for losing interest in his investigation.

"Well, I'll just say to you that I can't be bought or intimidated," Harper said. "And I will leave it at that."

McComish told me that he has no recollection of Weiers offering Harper anything to drop the probe.

"I'm absolutely positive that there was no . . . offer made," McComish said.

Whatever the case, there is no doubt that Weiers, McComish and other legislative leaders -- including Representative Bob Robson, who ran on the same ticket with McComish in District 20 -- see no reason to investigate the county's handling of the recount.

These three legislators, along with county elections officials and County Attorney Thomas, simply want the District 20 recount to fade away. They are hoping that the elections department's ridiculous explanation will simply confuse a public that will forget eventually.

Last fall, county elections boss Osborne said the 489 votes suddenly appeared because the county's electronic scanners didn't detect votes made with gel pens, eyeliner, Sharpies and other markers during the primary on ballots that were mailed in.

But this excuse doesn't wash because the mail-in ballots were read by the same type of vote-scanning equipment in the primary and the recount.

Osborne's nonsensical glitter-pen explanation is why skeptical Republican party officials requested that Thomas conduct the investigation that went nowhere.

More recently, a new explanation for the votes has been floated. McComish and Robson told me in separate interviews that the reason for the increase is that more ballots were counted in the recount than in the primary.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty