Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bennett May Prove Better Elections Player

Posted By on Sat, May 2, 2009 at 12:25 AM

df29/1241252619-kenbennett_1_.jpgIf what I saw was true yesterday, then former Senate president Ken Bennett, who replaced Gov. Jan Brewer as secretary of state in January, could be a better and much-needed player when it comes to discussions on elections-integrity issues that local activists want to see happen at both local and state levels.

Bennett was in town to address the Pima County Elections Integrity Commission, the panel set up in January with representatives appointed by the Board of Supervisors, the political parties of Pima County and County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. The meeting, which started at 9 a.m., gave Bennett a chance to address elections concerns and topics that his predecessor didn't address during the last year of her reign as secretary of state.

Last year, Pima County officials turned to Brewer's office to ask her for guidance regarding the treatment of election database files as public records, but she never defended the county in or out of court during the public-record lawsuit proceedings. She was extremely negative when it came to the dozens of changes Huckelberry began making as the Pima County Democratic Party shed light on elections problems during its public-records lawsuit for access to the electronic database files.

But on Friday, May 1, Bennett was different, and addressed each question from the commission with what seemed to be genuine concern and knowledge of the state's elections systems.

Bennett even said he's interested in looking at discussing potential changes in the state election procedures manual, as well as working with county officials on election electronic equipment needs and new technology changes. Even watching Bennett reach out to shake Huckelberry's hand at the end of the three-hour meeting showed something miraculous has finally come from Napolitano leaving: Brewer's memos to Huckelberry last year were at times a joke—sent out as press releases and written in a vitriolic language. It seemed like she wanted to see how much punishment the county administration could stand as it battled with the Democratic Party in Superior Court.

It's an interesting position that Bennett finds himself in—coming down in person to talk about elections procedures, when it was reported in January that Bennett said he believed Brewer appointed him to help her manage the state's budget deficit, considering his experience as Senate president during its last deficit after Sept. 11, 2001. But evidently, he's pretty handy at smoothing out ruffled election feathers, too.

The only issue that seemed to concern Bennett regarded a comment that Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard made at his RTA investigation press conference two weeks ago, that most election computer equipment used in all Arizona counties was flawed. Bennett said that in reaction, he put out a press release on his Web site.

“I am pleased that a hand count review of the RTA election produced a result almost identical to the results of the electronic tabulation equipment. Any tabulation system, whether manual or electronic, has potential weaknesses, and requires implementation of sufficient procedures to ensure election integrity. Since 2006, Arizona has put into practice over a dozen specific procedures that speak directly to the integrity and security of voting results.

“Although the hand review of ballots this far after an election is an extraordinary measure not often taken, in this case, the results will hopefully give the people of Pima County closure and a reaffirmation of the results and the integrity of the elections process.”

Assistant Attorney General Vince Rabago, former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party, spoke up on behalf of the AG's office and told the commission that when Goddard made that statement at the press conference, he was referring to the iBeta report done during the AG's first RTA criminal investigation that determined there were security problems with the system.

See, miracles, even political ones in Arizona, can happen. But those words may be written too soon—let's see what Bennett can do for elections in the state. He has said he wants to run for the office on his own in 2010; maybe an election is just what the elections integrity camp could use right now, and even Chuck Huckelberry.