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The Arizona Republic

Voting expert says ballots from primary should be examined

Harper to face ethics panel

Jan. 13, 2006
By Casey Newton

A voting-technology expert is calling for the examination of ballots cast in a District 20 primary election, saying it is the only way to quell concerns that the ballots were tampered with.

While the report gives support to those who have questioned the handling of the September 2004 recount, the circumstance of its release could mean trouble for the state senator who sponsored it.

"Without empirical examination of a random sample of voted ballots, there is no way to decide between the hypothesis that ballots have been altered and the hypothesis that ballots were miscounted by poorly calibrated machines," University of Iowa Associate Professor Douglas Jones wrote in a report released Thursday.

The study's release marked the latest chapter in a saga that began as a simple inquiry into the results of an election.

It has grown into a contentious fight over voting machines, Senate ethics and the role of the press in government investigations.

State Sen. Jack Harper, who had commissioned the report, said he was disturbed by the possibility that someone tampered with ballots cast in the Republican primary between John McComish and Anton Orlich.

McComish beat Orlich after a recount found nearly 500 new votes, reversing the initial outcome.

"I'm very alarmed that Dr. Jones believes one of the options may be fraud," said Harper, R-Surprise.

Last year, an investigation by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office found no wrongdoing in the handling of the recount.

But the appearance of so many new votes has baffled investigators, Jones included. He was traveling Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

The results of Jones' examination were first published Wednesday on the Web site of New Times, the weekly newspaper that agreed to pay for the study after the Senate refused.

Sen. Bill Brotherton said Thursday that he would pursue an ethics complaint against Harper, arguing he used his legislative subpoena power to "provide a scoop for a newspaper."


Harper said he plans to file a lawsuit seeking access to the ballots.

He added that he had received an offer from an unnamed outside group to fund the ballots' examination, should one be allowed.