It will be a landmark moment for election transparency in Arizona, argues the man who has championed the bill for years, as discussed on today's BradCast. Along the way, the longtime, dyed-in-the-wool progressive and non-partisan election transparency advocate has brought key allies on board, including the state's former Republican Secretary of State and its current Democratic Secretary of State. The big question, now that the bill has passed out of the legislature: Will the state's Democratic Governor sign the bill into law? [Audio link to full show follows this summary.]
John Brakey, of the non-partisan election integrity group AUDIT USA in Tucson, has been a guest on this program many times over the years. He is, perhaps, most famous for revealing that the silly CyberNinjas carrying out a so-called audit of the 2020 Presidential election in Maricopa County (Phoenix) in 2021 were searching for bamboo fibers in ballots in hopes of proving China had somehow stolen the election from Donald Trump in the state. (They didn't. The "audit" would prove, in fact, that Joe Biden beat Trump by an even larger margin than originally reported.) After years of reaching out to lawmakers on all sides of the aisle, Brakey's bill to declare digital ballot images as public records available to all was finally adopted by both chambers of the very Republican Arizona state legislature this week.
Sadly, just three Democrats voted in favor of it in the Senate, even though the state party included a call for such a measure in their party platform years ago. But Brakey was finally able to win over enough support to see the bill sent to the Governor's desk this week, with the support of AZ's new Democratic Sec. of State Adrian Fontes and the state's former Republican Sec. of State, now a state Senator and our guest on today's show, KEN BENNETT [pictured above].
Bennett and Brakey worked closely together to oversee the 2020 audit in Maricopa as Bennett served as a liaison to the state Senate.
For those unaware, digital ballot images are created by most scanners that tabulate ballots across the country. They are, essentially, digital photos of the actual paper ballot cast by the voter when it is scanned. The tabulator then uses those images to tally the voter's selections. The newly adopted bill in AZ, HB2560, would make all of those images available to the public almost immediately after elections. If so, anyone would be able, if they wish, to download them, examine and count the ballots to their heart's content.
As Senator Bennett explains today, the bill also mandates the release of the Cast Vote Record (CVR), a spreadsheet version of every ballot cast and the votes on each ballot, allowing the public to match a digital ballot image to its corresponding row in the CVR to make sure the computer tabulators tallied it as cast by the voter.
In addition to the release of those two sets of records, HB2560 also mandates that a list of all registered voters is made available before the election (those are already public records), and a list of those who voted in the election, greatly increasing transparency and critical public oversight of elections.
"Most of the allegations of impropriety or fraud that I and John Brakey and others have had to deal with over the months and years have to do with three major categories," Bennett tells me today. "One: are there unauthorized voters being allowed to vote in the system?" He says that's what the two voter lists will be able to tell us. "Another general aspect of criticism of the elections --- when certain people lose --- is, 'There had to have been unauthorized ballots injected into the system in favor of someone else.' That's addressed by the fact that there should be one ballot image --- no more, no less --- for everyone who voted. If the ballot images can be shown to match the exact number of voters who voted, then that goes away immediately."
"The third general accusation about stolen or fraudulent elections is that there are either mistakes or intentional manipulation of the machines, or something to transfer votes from one person to another. That is addressed by the Cast Vote Record being comparable to each or every ballot image to make sure they were, in fact, added up correctly."
While hand-counting the original article (as opposed to a digital photo of it), may still, ultimately, be the Gold Standard for democracy, this scheme gets us darn close in many ways. And, arguably, it may be even better in some aspects, in that it allows each and every individual in the state to count the ballots for themself if they wish --- at no cost! Brakey hopes to see a similar regime in every state in the country.
Bennett explains why he believes most Dems in the state legislature opposed HB2560, even though Sec. Fontes spoke passionately in favor of the bill during a legislative hearing earlier this year and, as Bennett notes, "this concept was part of the Arizona State Democrat Party state platform in 2012, no less."
"This is not a Republican idea or a Democrat idea," Bennett contends. "This is an election integrity idea that is supported by Republicans, Democrats and Independents." He is disappointed more Dems did not come on board, but offers an explanation for that on today's show, suggesting it was for political reasons, "rather than the legitimacy of the bill itself."
In fact, Jenny Guzman, Program Director at Common Cause of Arizona, has been whipping against the bill in misleading op-eds and emails to members, derisively referring to it as "the Voter Privacy Violation Act" and falsely claiming it will reveal how voters voted. (We reached out to her for an explanation of her somewhat bizarre critique some time ago, but received no response. A very good rebuttal to her claims is posted here.) While Brakey, Bennett and Fontes worked in a bipartisan fashion to modify the bill to answer to any and all concerns, Guzman has continued to mislead the public about it. Bennett politely described "a couple of her critical claims" as "just not true."
"Voting is a sacred and secret process," argues Bennett. "Once we have disassociated the ballots from any particular voter, the counting of our ballots needs to be a very public process, and it needs to be verifiable by the public." He argues this system will help prevent false claims by election deniers like Kari Lake, 2022's failed GOP candidate for Governor. "When that visual proof is verifiable --- by candidates, by regular citizens, by the media, by universities, by election scrutineers like John Brakey's AUDIT USA group down in Tucson --- all of that can and will be verified."
So, will the state's Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs now sign the bill into law? That is unknown, though Bennett believes "we've got a good chance" given her familiarity with the systems and issues at hand as the state's previous Secretary of State before becoming Governor this year. We'll find out within days. Bennett urges voters, both in AZ and elsewhere, to contact the Governor and let her know your feelings about HB2560 to Engage@AZ.gov or via the Governor's website.
ALSO ON TODAY'S SHOW: While HB2560 is an excellent election bill adopted by a far-right leaning state legislature in AZ, I've got a few thoughts on a terrible election bill, Georgia's SB202 voter suppression bill, adopted by the far-right legislature in the Peach State. (I am serving as a named plaintiff representing media in a lawsuit filed against the bill by the Coalition for Good Governance). And Desi Doyen joins us for our latest Green News Report...
UPDATE 5/22/23: Arizona's Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs has vetoed HB2560. Details now here...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)