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Election investigation continues, Ethic complaint against Harper could be withdrawn

Published: Jan 16, 2006 - 02:38:12 pm EST
By Rusty Bradshaw, Independent Newspapers

District 4 State Sen. Jack Harper (R-Surprise) withdrew a lawsuit to force the Maricopa County Elections Department to release ballots in a disputed 2004 state House race.

But the investigation into irregularities in that election will not cease, Sen. Harper said. His efforts as chairman of the Senate Government Accountability and Reform Committee drew criticism from county officials and colleagues in the Senate.


As part of his investigation, Sen. Harper used legislative subpoena power to gain access to vote-counting machines used in the 2004 election for Dr. Douglas Jones of the University of Iowa to inspect.

Sen. Harper also secured $3,000 funding from the New Times newspaper for Dr. Jones' research. It is this action that drew the ethics complaint from Sen. Brotherton.

"Sen. Brotherton is leery of how much information the New Times had," Sen. Harper said, adding Sen. Brotherton was expected to call for a hearing Jan. 16.

The senator claims information in a New Times story published last week before the release of Dr. Jones' report came from an extensive interview he gave the newspaper when he was in the Valley Dec. 20 conducting his research.

At issue in Sen. Harper's investigation is the race for the District 20 House seat in which Anton Orlich initially defeated John McComish by four votes in the September 2004 Republican primary to win the House seat.

The closeness of the vote demanded an automatic recount which turned up 489 new votes. Those votes boosted Rep. McComish over Mr. Orlich by 13 votes. ...


Rep. McComish said an investigation was conducted and no wrongdoing was found. He also expressed disappointment that county elections officials did not better explain themselves.


In his report, released Jan. 12, Dr. Jones offered no firm conclusion why the extra votes showed up in the 2004 recount of the District 20 race. He was only allowed to examine the vote counting machines and not the actual ballots.

"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," Dr. Jones wrote.

Research showed that machines used in the 2004 election were calibrated to be sensitive enough to count a dot-size mark as a vote, according to Dr. Jones.

He claims Maricopa County elections officials have made inaccurate comments about the best writing utensil to be used for voting. He suggests routine testing of common marking implements.

Sen. Brotherton said the motive for his ethics complaint was not the investigation itself, but the methods used by Sen. Harper.

"The gist of it is that the New Times claims Dr. Jones' report is private property," he said. "My argument is that if legislative subpoena power was used, it is public domain."

Sen. Harper claims he secured the funding after Sen. Bennett initially refused to allow the Senate to pay for the research.

"The Senate president asked me to meet three stipulations before proceeding with the investigation," Sen. Harper said. "Getting outside funding was one of those stipulations."


Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas opposed granting access to the ballots.


Sen. Brotherton, in his formal complaint, addressed the relationship between Sen. Harper and the New Times, saying the newspaper paid for Dr. Jones' research in exchange for an exclusive story. Sen. Harper claims no such agreement exists.

"I had said all along that as soon as I received the report, I would send it to the media," Sen. Harper said.

Sen. Bennett confirmed the report was not considered the sole property of the New Times. That confirmation led him to agree to pay any unpaid costs for his work.

"I talked to Dr. Jones and he told me the report would go to the Senate at the same time it went to anyone else," Sen. Bennett said Jan. 11. "I think those things will resolve the complaint."

Sen. Brotherton agreed.


News Editor Alex Pickett contributed to this story.

Post comments at www.newszapforums.com/forum8. Surprise News Editor Rusty Bradshaw can be reached at (623) 972-6101 or rbradshaw@newszap.com