A contentious race for the District 3 Gila County supervisor seat between incumbent and Democrat Shirley Dawson and Republican challenger David Cook that included allegations of voting irregularities has ended with a victorious Dawson and a resigned but a ready-to-move on Cook.
In the end, Dawson won by 241 votes, or 49 percent, to Cook’s 2,803 votes, or 45 percent, according to the tally approved by supervisors Monday.
In the Canyon Day precinct, on the eastern edge of Gila County with a population of 1,092 as of the 2000 census, where Cook said he lost big, a local Republican precinct committeeman named Jim McCawley says he viewed voting irregularities.
At issue are 76 allegedly empty provisional ballot envelopes and a number of general ballots for which signatures at the polling place did not match signatures on record at the recorder’s office. The exact number is in dispute.
Provisional ballots are given at a polling place to voters whose eligibility is in question. Voters fill them out, and then the recorder ascertains whether the vote is valid. If it is valid, the elections office counts the vote.
Cook said on Monday, “nothing is perfect, but we’re not going to contest anything.” He said he was disappointed by the outcome, but exhausted by campaigning and ready to move on.
Dawson, in the supervisor’s meeting on Monday, said, “I’m just glad the election is over.”
McCawley reported his allegations to the county Republican Party, which then reported them to the state party. The state party had a lawyer investigate.
“There are a few selected concerns that we’ve got,” said Sean McCaffrey, the executive director of the Arizona Republican Party. “The end of it is we’ve opted not to pursue any election challenges because we don’t believe there are enough of them to constitute a reversal in any of the races that we’ve looked at,” McCaffrey said.
McCawley, however, believes the matter should be pursued. “There’s no way of knowing what happened at that particular precinct,” he said.
McCawley says he saw 76 empty provisional ballot envelopes, the fronts filled out, but the envelopes never sealed. The envelopes are supposed to be sealed at the polling place, verified at the recorder’s office and counted at the elections office. The envelopes are not to be opened until they return to the elections office for the last time.
“Everything that comes out of a polling place is sealed,” McCawley said. “It’s a beautiful system.”
He says of the 76 empty provisional ballot envelopes, only four had been filled out by eligible voters.
Filled with unease, McCawley and at least one other observer asked to compare signatures on the voter sign-in at the polling place to signatures that the recorder keeps on file.
County Recorder Sadie Dalton confirmed that observers asked to see voter signatures for Canyon Day after problems with provisional ballots emerged there. The recorder’s office is charged with verifying signatures on provisional ballots.
While observers looked at the signatures the recorder’s office keeps on file, “they kept saying why are these signatures so different,” Dalton said.
Dalton said that of 358 voters, 30 or 40 signatures appeared to not match. McCawley gave a lower number of voter signatures examined, but a higher percentage of non-matching signatures.
Dalton’s office contacted the county attorney, who said the county could get a signature analysis if necessary.
At polling places, signatures are not normally checked, said county Elections Director Dixie Mundy. They don’t have to be.
Mundy said her office has received no formal complaints regarding either discordant signatures or miscounted provisional ballots.
McCaffrey, with the state Republican Party, also said some ballot signatures don’t appear to match the complementary registrations and some provisional ballots may have been “probably accidentally” scanned as regular ballots.
If provisional ballots aren’t counted as such, McCaffrey said that raises the possibility of double votes cast.
Mundy said voters cast provisional ballots as regular ballots “once in a while,” if a provisional voter happens to arrive at a ballot scanner before an election official can stop them.
McCawley doesn’t know what happened to the ballots inside those provisional envelopes.
“I have a dog in the dogfight because I was working for David Cook,” he said. “If Dave loses honestly, that’s the way it goes,” he said.