Pandora's Box

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McComish said improperly marked ballots during the primary were rejected by the scanning machines. But during the recount, he said, election workers made sure ballots that had been rejected in the primary were processed by the scanners during the recount.

In other words, I asked McComish, more ballots were counted in the recount than in the primary?

"That's my understanding," he said.

What McComish didn't know when I asked him the question was that I already knew there were four fewer ballots counted in the recount than in the primary.

Come on, McComish, you should do more research before conjuring up such an outlandish explanation!

The fact that the county somehow lost four ballots in the two weeks between the primary and the recount is yet another troubling indicator that something is rotten at the county elections department.

The plot thickens when you consider what Jim Torgeson has to say.

Torgeson, who ran as a Democrat for the House in District 20, told me that a few days after the September 7, 2004, primary, he asked Robson how the recount would be conducted. Robson had already won one of the two House seats up for election in the District 20 Republican primary.

Torgeson said he was very interested in the outcome of the recount because he felt he had a far better chance of defeating Orlich in the general election than McComish. Torgeson said Robson told him not to expect Orlich to be his opponent.

"[Robson] said he could virtually guarantee it would be McComish," Torgeson said.

Robson's brash prediction puzzled Torgeson.

"I thought it was weird," Torgeson says. "How did he know that?"

Robson said he has no recollection of such a conversation with Torgeson but that he told everyone during the primary campaign that he expected McComish to win the second Republican seat in District 20.

Which McComish did. But only after the strangest and most troubling election recount in recent county history.

The District 20 fiasco has attracted the interest of Douglas W. Jones, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa. Jones is an expert on voting machines who has served as a consultant to elections officials across the country.

"It's hard to tell whether they are covering up incompetence or fraud," says Jones, who has studied the District 20 situation extensively. "And it's hard to come up with a hypothesis that doesn't include, to some degree, one of these things or the other."

But here is the question that lingers in my mind: What is the back story behind Speaker Weiers involving himself in this battle between fellow Republicans? Is he afraid that a Pandora's box of election problems might be opened up in the state's largest county if the truth is learned about how Karen Osborne's office mishandled District 20?

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty