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RTA: OUR WAY OR NO WAY

About a week after the Attorney General's Office took procession of the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority ballots, election-integrity activists made it clear that they were unhappy about the lack of security and oversight during the move.

They were also peeved about the fact that the ballots were going to land at the Maricopa County Elections Department—since the activists are even more suspicious of ballot security issues in Maricopa County.

Reaction from the AG's office was kind of like: "Hey everyone, it's going to be OK. Once we catch our breath after trucking those ballots to Phoenix, we're going to sit down and make a plan everyone will know about and be happy with."

Last week, that plan went public when representatives of Pima County's four political parties received a letter from Donald E. Conrad, chief counsel of the AG's Criminal Division. And to no great surprise, not everyone was happy with what was outlined in the letter in preparation of ballot-counting kickoff day, which will be Monday, April 6.

According to the letter (which you can read yourself at The Range, the Weekly's newly named blog), the hand-count will take place over the course of five days, and the Maricopa County Elections Department will indeed handle the process. It also asked that each party nominate three people, one of which the AG's Office will select from each party to witness the ballot examination.

However, the parties didn't just have to hand over the name of each person nominated; the parties were required to include birth dates and Social Security numbers for a background check. The deadline was Tuesday, March 30, giving party chairs less than two weeks to find people who have experience observing elections, can pass a background check and can spend five days in Phoenix.

Election-integrity folks and Jeff Rogers, the Pima County Democratic Party chair, raised concerns about the time commitment and complained that the three-nominee requirement could be a way for the AG's Office to keep outspoken election peeps out of the way. You know, people like John Brakey and Jim March.

Rogers contacted the AG's Office regarding his concerns and eventually talked to the man himself: Attorney General Terry Goddard. Rogers says Goddard gave him the OK to allow each party to instead provide one or two names, rather than the requested three. Rogers also asked Goddard if observers could bring in magnifying glasses to look at ballots more closely, which was also given the OK. (The letter said observers would not be allowed to bring in paper, pencils or even guns.)

Rogers told The Skinny that the Dems were nominating attorney Roger White, who is between jobs at the moment, and Ben Love, a U.S. Air Force retiree. (Both have participated as observers in the past.)

Bob Westerman, the Pima County Republican Party chair, says he'd rather not reveal the names of his nominees. However, Westerman—like Rogers—says he thought it was peculiar that each party had to submit three names.

"As far as the process, I find it a little odd that we have to submit three names," Westerman says. "... I don't see how it would matter who it is. It is an extra step I don't understand. And for me, as a chairman, it makes it tough to find three people qualified, but who can also spend five days in Phoenix."

If you didn't get a chance to be nominated, but want a seat for the count (which is not a "recount" in the sense that it could change the election results, but a count as part of the AG's criminal investigation), the AG will have an area set up to accommodate a limited number of people interested in watching through a glass partition. And Maricopa Elections has made arrangements to put the process on the Internet via live streaming video.

Those Internet addresses, and details on how to get access to the viewing area, are forthcoming from the AG's office, according to the letter.

ARIZONA: CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE

The outcome of the budget battle that's raging at the Capitol is far from certain. But we're pretty convinced that the Legislature will not find the necessary two-thirds majority to raise taxes, and Gov. Jan Brewer will stick to her position that she won't sign a spending plan that balances the budget by cutting $3 billion.

That means that any tax increase will have to go to voters—and on a tight timeline, because we need a spending plan by July 1. We're not sure how they'd get something assembled in time for a June election at the rate they're going up there ... but hope springs eternal, right?

What if lawmakers put two proposals on the ballot and asked voters to choose between them? Arizonans: If you want lower taxes and cuts to schools, universities, social programs, state parks and just about everything else that the state does, choose Option A. If you want to preserve spending on those programs and raise some taxes, choose Option B.

It would certainly be an interesting experiment to see exactly how voters feel about higher taxes and government spending.

WE COULD ALL USE A LITTLE KINDNESS

We're not generally in the kindness business here at The Skinny, but what the hell: Here's your chance to reward someone in your life with a special miniature version of Ben's Bells.

As part of Celebrate Kindness Day on Saturday, April 4, your bell can be delivered or shipped to the person of your choice to thank them for making our world a better place simply by being kind.

The order form is online. The bells cost $25 if you plan to pick up and deliver them yourself, or if you want the bell delivered in Tucson. They can be shipped outside of Tucson for $30.

You can also celebrate kindness from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, April 4, during a get-together at Geronimo Plaza, 816 E. University Blvd. The Determined Luddites and other bands will be playing, and the crowd will be making bells, painting faces and bidding in a silent auction.

CAGED HEAT

Democrat Cheryl Cage, who lost to Republican Al Melvin in the Legislative District 26 Senate race last year by 1,966 votes, is already hungry for a rematch.

Cage had hoped to keep the district in Democratic hands after Melvin narrowly lost to Democrat Charlene Pesquiera in 2006. But after defeating moderate Republican Pete Hershberger in the 2008 primary, Melvin was able to prevail.

In 2010, he'll have the advantage of incumbency. But he's also running in a GOP-leaning district whose voters have shown they will support Democrats when Republicans veer too far to the right.

Cage is hoping to capitalize on Melvin's support for deep cuts to education, universities and social spending in the 2009 budget fix.

Melvin is well aware of his vulnerabilities, which is why—unlike some Southern Arizona Republicans—he hasn't been complaining about wasted money with Rio Nuevo or arguing that Science Foundation Arizona is a big waste of money.

We expect Cage's entry into the race will tamp down some of the rumors we've been hearing that Hershberger might become a Democrat as part of a plan to take on Melvin again.

More by Jim Nintzel

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