Monday, January 14, 2008

Now the Geeks Get Busy

Posted By on Mon, Jan 14, 2008 at 2:40 PM

Friday, Jan. 11, was the deadline for Pima County to hand over the election-database files that the Board of Supervisors voted to turn over at the drama-filled Jan. 8 supes meeting.

The best decision the board made that morning--no matter your opinion on this public-records case--was not to hold the discussion and vote on the Pima County Democratic Party lawsuit appeal in executive session. The week prior to the meeting, the Pima County Web site listed the lawsuit topic under "executive session" on the meeting agenda. 

Media coverage of the meeting focused on John Brakey shouting to let more people speak; he almost got himself kicked out. The result was 60 voices chanting in unison. But according to Jim March, who assisted Democratic Party attorney Bill Risner with the Demo lawsuit, getting the supes to vote on letting the Dems have all the files happened after March told the supes there was no security risk in giving the Dems all the files, rather than just one of each from the 2006 primary and general elections.

Once John Moffatt, Pima County's IT director, reluctantly agreed that was true, the supes unanimously voted to release all the 2006 general and primary files, as well as all of  the Regional Transportation Authority election files, according to March. 

Some election-integrity activists said they were worried the turnover wouldn't happen until the following week, and others were concerned the files would come from hard drives in the Elections Division office. Prior to the lawsuit, the Democrats had Judge Michael Miller lock a hard drive with all the database files in a courthouse vault. Risner told the county that's where they wanted to retrieve the files. 

Risner went so far as to write a letter to Pima County Attorney Chris Straub outlining a protocol the Democrats preferred in handling the transfer of the database files to maintain security. Risner and crew felt that Moffatt's plan to hand over the files was too risky. The county said it would use a sheriff's deputy escort to transfer the files from the Election Division office and then transfer the data onto county-owned used laptops. 

Risner told Straub the Dems preferred to download the data directly onto a new laptop they would provide straight from the store box, and they wanted to videotape the transfer, even though Moffatt said no cameras would be allowed. 

According to Risner, the transfer of the files happened exactly as the Democrats wanted on Friday, although they didn't leave the building until 10:30 p.m. that night. 

While the party waited for the files, the Democratic Party reached out to elections and database experts around the country to begin building a computer program that can run an analysis of the database files. Risner says you just can't eyeball the files; you need a computer to check the results. Once the program is completed and proves successful, it could potentially be posted on the Internet for other election-integrity activists around the country to download for their own database analysis. 

Risner says the program will have to be Diebold-specific, but most elections offices throughout the U.S. use Diebold systems in any case. 

So, the fight for access to public records is over, right? Well, no. Risner says they are going to request the remaining election files that go all the way back to 1996. 

"They're all public records," Risner says. "And we want them."

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