Pressure Tactics

Show us the ballots!

That's the only way to get to the bottom of a raging scandal that started with an obscure 2004 Republican primary election in the Ahwatukee Foothills and is now entangling six prominent Republican officials.

Speaker of the Arizona House Jim Weiers, Senate President Ken Bennett, Secretary of State Jan Brewer, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell and Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert all are on the wrong side of this issue.

Instead of doing everything possible to assure the public that Maricopa County and the state are conducting fair and accurate elections, this arrogant cabal is fighting to prevent citizens from exercising a fundamental American right to discover what happened in an election where something clearly went wrong.

The primordial definition of a fair election is the ability to reconstruct it after the fact. We have the ability to do that in the District 20 Republican primary and subsequent recount, where 489 votes inexplicably appeared. The new votes changed the outcome of the primary election for a seat in the state Legislature.

University of Iowa computer science professor Douglas Jones examined Maricopa County's voting machines in December and discovered serious problems. One of the nation's leading experts on voting-machine technology, Jones discovered that the county's machines are not properly calibrated to consistently read votes.

Jones says his tests revealed that any election within a 2 percent margin could be called into question. But even that astounding determination isn't enough to clear up questions swirling around the District 20 election.

In a report released earlier this month that was first published by New Times, Jones concluded that one of two things happened in the District 20 election: Either Maricopa County's vote-counting machines suffered an even greater failure than he found during his tests, or someone tampered with the votes between the primary and the recount.

The only way to determine what happened, Jones says, is to examine a random sample of the ballots.

Such an examination would not change the outcome of the election because it already has been certified by a judge -- but it would provide crucial information on how accurately Maricopa County counts your votes and whether elections are safe from tampering.

Republican Senator Jack Harper, chairman of the Government Accountability and Reform Committee -- whose job it is to investigate such irregularities -- has been trying since last summer to find out what happened in the District 20 election.

The efforts to derail his investigation have been, at a minimum, extraordinary.

For several months, allegations have circulated that House Speaker Weiers offered Harper a job during a meeting last June in which Weiers also asked Harper to drop his investigation.

Weiers denies offering Harper a job as an inducement to end the elections probe that is angering the trio of Maricopa County elected officials, as well as Secretary of State Brewer, whose office certifies election machinery used throughout the state.

While Harper has not provided me details of what happened in the meeting with Weiers, he has made repeated comments that strongly suggest that he believes Weiers acted inappropriately.

Harper's reticence to disclose details about the meeting to me does not mean the second-term senator from Surprise will not discuss the question of what transpired with criminal investigators.

"I just know that other than being asked by a law enforcement agency, I would just rather not answer that question," Harper responded, when I asked him what exactly happened when he met with Weiers last summer.

Did you hear that, Attorney General Terry Goddard?

How about you, U.S. Attorney Paul K. Charlton?

We have a state legislator saying he's willing to talk to law enforcement about a meeting with the Speaker of the House in which a deal may have been offered if he would give up on an investigation of District 20.

This is something worth checking out -- especially when it may be linked to a big problem with the way elections are conducted in the nation's fourth-most-populous county.

I first reported allegations of possible undue influence last fall ("Pandora's Box," October 27), when Harper suggested that such an offer was made.

"I will neither confirm nor deny who made the offer," Harper told me at the time. Harper also emphasized that he "could not be bought or intimidated."

The allegation resurfaced earlier this month after Democratic Senator Bill Brotherton filed an ethics complaint against Harper. Brotherton accused Harper of abusing his subpoena power to help New Times obtain an exclusive story related to Harper's District 20 recount investigation ("Rocking the Boat," January 12).

The five-member Senate Ethics Committee is composed of three Republicans and two Democrats, including Brotherton. Before the committee's first meeting, Harper told me that if Brotherton asked him to testify under oath about his meeting with Weiers, he would reveal what happened.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty