Santa Cruz County Elections Will Be Reviewed By Nonpartisan Group To Show Value Of Transparency

Santa Cruz County Courthouse [Photo by Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

An Arizona nonpartisan organization which teaches citizens how to effectively engage in public oversight of elections has put Santa Cruz County officials on notice that it wants copies of several elections records once the Board of Supervisors signs the canvass of the Aug. 2 Primary Election.

The July 28 public records request by Americans United for Democracy, Integrity, and Transparency (AUDIT Elections USA) revolves around what its Director, John Brakey, calls the fight for the gold standard in elections – the use of hand-marked paper ballots along with the use of ballot images as an auditable system which is trackable to the original anonymous ballot.

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“You as the Board of Supervisors have the power to prove to the electors of Santa Cruz County that they have elections that are transparent, trackable, and publicly verified by providing ballot images so that the public can add up results themselves, by precinct,” Brakey wrote.

During an election, all of Arizona’s 15 counties use digital scan voting machines which take a picture of every ballot. This picture, otherwise known as a ballot image, is what the electronic voting system actually counts, not the paper ballots themselves.

AUDIT Elections USA wants copies of Santa Cruz County’s 2022 primary election ballot images as well as its Cast Vote Record (CVR) and the CVR database. A CVR is an electronic record generated by a ballot scanning device of a voter’s selections in each contest.

In addition, the group has requested three 2022 primary election reports specific to the ES&S voting system used by Santa Cruz County.

Arizona has one of the country’s most open public records law, which starts with the presumption that records of government activities are available for review by the public unless exempted by another law or court order. Brakey explained to Santa Cruz County’s election officials that while voting is a secret process, counting ballots is not.

“Voting is the process of casting a ballot. After voting, the same ballot has been “VOTED.” There is no secrecy in counting votes on ballots,” Brakey noted. “Ballots are anonymous records, which are unsigned and stored in boxes, along with other anonymous ballots.”

Alma Schultz, the Clerk of the Board, acknowledged AUDIT’s records request on July 30. Schultz also happens to serve as Santa Cruz County’s elections director. Schultz

This is the second time AUDIT Elections USA has requested public records related to Santa Cruz County’s elections. In October 2014, a local judge ruled that the then-board of supervisors failed to process the group’s records request in a timely manner. County officials had to pay attorney’s fees as the losing party.

Eight years later, Brakey sees a different attitude from county officials, at least for now. “Thus far I’m impressed with the changes Santa Cruz has made since 2014,” Brakey noted in a July 30 follow-up email to Schultz, adding he understands it is difficult to run an election.

His team does not “anticipate perfection” Brakey said, but they do expect transparency and integrity. Brakey told Arizona Daily Independent he intends to be in Santa Cruz County observing next week’s election activities.

According to Brakey, AUDIT Elections USA’s mission is to guarantee each American’s vote is counted as intended “in a secure, transparent, impartial, and independently audited election process.” But with 50 million Americans believing the 2020 presidential election was stolen, he believes it is critical for all Arizona elections officials to support steps which restore confidence in elections.

Brakey, who lived in Nogales for several years and ran a business there, wrote that Santa Cruz County’s location along the border “only complicates the growing cynicism that is so prevalent” in such communities.  Transparency prevents voters from making false claims of election fraud, he said.

“Confidence in election results is good for all political parties, for voters, for candidates, for election officials, and good for our country,” he added.