Straitjacket Jan Brewer

We are inching dangerously close to the point where elections in Arizona can be suspended for an indefinite period of time for the flimsiest of reasons.

Claiming to be acting at the request of the U.S. Department of Defense, Secretary of State Jan Brewer is seeking unprecedented authority from the state Legislature to postpone elections for a wide range of nebulous reasons.

In a grab for power that has been ignored by mainstream reporters covering the state Capitol but sharply criticized by voting-rights groups, Brewer wants authority to postpone state and federal elections in the event of a civil disorder, a natural disaster, a state of emergency or any other catastrophic event.

None of these events is specifically defined in a bill sponsored by Republican Representative Doug Quelland, at Brewer's request. A civil disorder, critics of the bill say, could range from massive riots that set a city ablaze to a handful of protesters staging a sit-in on the Capitol mall.

By a 6-2 vote, the House Judiciary Committee on January 19 approved Quelland's bill that includes no specific deadline to reschedule a postponed election. Instead, House Bill 2148 only requires the Secretary of State to reschedule the postponed election "as soon as practical."

Democratic state Representative Ted Downing of Tucson is sharply critical of the bill.

"The people of Arizona, I think, would react very strongly if they thought that in [the Legislature] we were in the process of . . . granting the Secretary of State or any elected official the right to postpone an election," Downing said during the committee hearing.

Brewer, who did not return my telephone call requesting an interview, appeared confused and flustered during her testimony before the committee. Downing asked her to define what constitutes a civil disorder that would cause her to suspend an election, and she gave this incoherent response:

"A civil disorder, I guess, you could ask the attorney Louis, um. Of course, it's not only addressing civil disorder, it's a catastrophe," she said. "In fact, if something were to happen to the nuclear plant, et cetera, et cetera. We are not much into hurricanes here. But who knows? We have other kinds of things that do take place."

Say what?!

Like what kind of "things," Madam Secretary?

If you can't provide a better explanation than that for what you consider to be a civil disorder that would allow you to postpone our right to vote, then it's time for you to rethink your career choice.

The fact that you would even propose such an outrageous usurpation of our date-certain fundamental right to vote is bad enough. But to offer such a dimwitted explanation of when you would exercise such awesome power is testament of your ineptitude.

Fact is, this Republican war-horse has been feeding at the public trough for way too long. After spending 14 years in the Legislature and another six as a member of the do-nothing Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Brewer was elected Secretary of State in 2002.

She's accumulated enough years in public office to qualify for the state's cushy retirement plan for elected officials. It's time to send her on her way in the upcoming election, where she'll face former Phoenix mayor Skip Rimsza in the Republican primary. Skippy's no genetic engineer, but at least he can answer a question in a complete sentence.

If she gets past Rimsza, perhaps Democrat Bruce Wheeler can upset Brewer and drive a stake through her political career.

Brewer's claim to fame as Secretary of State is ignoring the District 20 recount fiasco, where 489 votes suddenly appeared between the September 2004 Republican primary for a House seat and a recount two weeks later. Rather than investigate what happened, she's passively accepted Maricopa County's clumsy whitewash.

Not only has Brewer failed to get to the bottom of the huge voting scandal that may have affected other races in the September 2004 primary election in Maricopa County, she is now trying to shove the dreaded Diebold touch-screen voting machines down our throats.

Brewer wants to put these machines, which New Mexico recently moved to ban, in more than 2,000 precincts across Arizona. The "direct recording electronics" voting machines do not create a paper trail so that their tabulations can be audited. In other words, there is no way to compare the votes that appear on the machines with hand-marked paper ballots.

Even worse, hackers have made easy pickings of the memory cards in these machines, casting serious doubt about their ability to accurately and fairly tabulate votes.

Now, the highly partisan Brewer, who served as co-chair for President Bush's 2004 election campaign in Arizona, cavalierly expects us to confer upon her office the immense power to suspend elections based on some vague "civil disorder" rationale?