Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Arizona Primary -- ongoing ballot counting

Pursuant to ARS § 16-602, the Maricopa County Elections Department today conducted a hand count audit of results from Tuesday's primary. I served as a judge in the audit.

Each "board" at the audit, which was conducted at the County Sheriff's training facility, consisted of two judges and an inspector. There were also "auditors" who compared the counts we obtained with the unofficial machine count totals for the batches we counted by hand. The two judges were from different political parties, so I was paired with a Republican who had participated in the process for several election cycles. All told there were about 45 boards.

The procedure is basically as spelled out in the statute.
At least two per cent of the precincts in that county, or two precincts, whichever is greater, shall be selected at random from a pool consisting of every precinct in that county. The county political party chairman for each political party that is entitled to continued representation on the state ballot or the chairman's designee shall conduct the selection of the precincts to be hand counted. The precincts shall be selected by lot without the use of a computer, and the order of selection by the county political party chairmen shall also be by lot. The selection of the precincts shall not begin until all ballots voted in the precinct polling places have been delivered to the central counting center. The unofficial vote totals from all precincts shall be made public before selecting the precincts to be hand counted.
And for Early Ballots,
After the electronic tabulation of early ballots and at one or more times selected by the chairman of the political parties entitled to continued representation on the ballot or the chairman's designee, the chairmen or the chairmen's designees shall randomly select one or more batches of early ballots that have been tabulated to include at least one batch from each machine used for tabulating early ballots and those ballots shall be securely sequestered by the county recorder or officer in charge of elections along with their unofficial tally reports for a postelection manual audit. The chairmen or the chairmen's designees shall randomly select from those sequestered early ballots a number equal to one per cent of the total number of early ballots cast or five thousand early ballots, whichever is less. From those randomly selected early ballots, the county officer in charge of elections shall conduct a manual audit of the same races that are being hand counted pursuant to subsection B of this section.
I was assigned, with 15 or so other boards, to audit Early Ballots. This is significant because of a semi-pervasive myth that provisional ballots are only counted if a particular race is close enough to matter. Prior to election day, I participated in an online discussion where one person seemed to be convinced of the veracity of that myth. I can tell you that is simply not a true myth. Every vote gets counted.

Nevertheless, because election systems and processes are very complicated, the myth persists along with a general skepticism about the integrity of the processes and systems. Because Maricopa County is the fourth most populous county in the entire country, and because taxpayers hate paying taxes, the complexity is compounded. We have to deal with old, somewhat outdated equipment. But procedures are adjusted (and hopefully improved) with every election cycle.

Two notable examples of problems in Maricopa County's not too distant history include,
  • A 2010 lawsuit against Maricopa County elections for, among other things, selecting the precincts to be audited by hand prior to publication of the unofficial results of the vote totals for EVERY precinct (there are more than a thousand in our county).
  • A notorious 2004 election in which a recount produced a substantially different total than the original tabulation (McComish vs Orlich in LD20, which is now LD18).



Because I learned of the 2010 lawsuit after coming home to write about the hand count audit, I had to figure out how the lawsuit was resolved before I felt comfortable continuing. Maricopa County settled one of the most significant claims in the suit just prior to the start of the trial. Specifically, about publishing the unofficial vote totals for all precincts in the country BEFORE the political party chairs select the precincts to be audited. The video above explains more about why that's important. As I understand it, the 2014 primary election unofficial vote totals by precinct were published prior to selection of the precincts to audit.

Earlier in 2010, the Arizona Democratic Party passed a resolution written by attorney Bill Risner on the subject of election integrity that is relevant to this subject.

When all was said and done today regarding the hand count audit in Maricopa County, I had more confidence in the integrity of the system. A major factor today is that all of the Democratic and Republican volunteers were all intent on doing their utmost to ensure the integrity of what they were doing.

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As of 5pm or so this evening, the latest results in some close legislative primaries, updated from last night's tallies, show:
  • Martin Quezada now trails Lydia Hernandez (LD29 Dem Senate) by 30 votes
  • Shawna Bolick now leads Mary Hamway (LD28 Rep House) by 182 votes
  • David Burnell Smith now leads incumbent John Allen (LD15 Rep House) by 19 votes.

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