Letter to the Editor: Fred Miller Ali Morse

As published in the Herald/Review online 8/25/23

To the editor:

We would like to thank Cochise County Supervisors Peggy Judd and Ann English for voting against the extension of the $1 million grant for "ballot fraud countermeasures."


Through no fault of their own, this controversial grant had been beset by procurement issues, ongoing delays, and the failure of Recorder David Stevens to provide proper paperwork. The grant was an expensive and poorly administered attempt to solve a non-existent problem. Although the grant was terminated on Tuesday, Recorder Stevens had already spent over $187,500 of taxpayers’ money without board approval.


Additional thanks to English and Judd who indicated at Tuesday’s work session that they are in favor of having oversight of the Cochise County elections department return to the county administrator.

Recorder Stevens has been in charge of elections since late February and will step down Sept. 7. His responsibilities included hiring Elections Director Bob Bartelsmeyer and overseeing the unlawful acceptance of petitions to repeal the Douglas AMA, for which the county was sued.


We believe these votes by Supervisors Judd and English are a positive step toward beginning to rebuild trust in elections that has been seriously eroded over the past year.

Fred Miller


Ali Morse


Attorney asks AZ Supreme Court to throw out 2022 election

Commentary by Bob Karp follows

"PHOENIX — A Scottsdale attorney who is a supporter of Kari Lake is asking the Arizona Supreme Court to void not just the results of the race for governor she lost but the entire 2022 election statewide.
In a new filing, Ryan Heath contends that it was illegal for Maricopa County to verify signatures on early ballots by comparing them with images from prior early ballots. He contends Arizona law says the only valid comparison has to be with the person’s original voter registration."
Read the entire news article at YourValley.net
Commentary by Bob Karp
Elected officials raise your hand if you want a 2022 election do-over. If yes, then immediately resign and ask for a special election. These lawsuits show no good faith in our election process in this state. And the unspoken agreement by everyone filing lawsuits is that these objections would overwhelmingly disenfranchise Democratic Party voters. For over 20 years Republicans have dominated the AZ political scene and we have had mail-in balloting - not a peep out of them. Now a flurry of the most technical and bad faith arguments.

AZ Secretary of State new elections rulebook gets criticism

Everybody isn't happy with AZ SOS Adrian Fontes' new election rulebook

Rulebook for Arizona’s 2024 elections faces criticism from multiple sides

Jen Fifield, Votebeat Arizona

Votebeat is a nonprofit news organization reporting on voting access and election administration across the U.S. Sign up for our free newsletters here.

As Secretary of State Adrian Fontes makes rules for how next year’s elections must be run in Arizona, Republican legislative leaders say he’s overstepping his authority. Voting rights advocates say he isn’t exerting enough authority.

The groups publicized their qualms this week with Fontes’ new draft of the state’s Elections Procedures Manual — the giant rulebook that instructs Arizona counties how to conduct elections to comply with state law.

Republican Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma accused Fontes of incorrectly postponing the implementation of a law requiring voter-roll clean-up, for example, and they say he is dictating in too much detail what voter intimidation looks like, such as following voters to their car or taking photos of them. 

Petersen warned of “legal action” if Fontes doesn’t change his draft, saying in a statement that the draft “misinterprets Arizona election laws, unlawfully expands the powers of the Secretary of State, and subjects elections to a greater potential for voter fraud.”

Meanwhile, voter advocacy groups are asking Fontes to provide more instructions on many aspects of how counties run elections, including how counties provide voting access to voters in jail and voters with disabilities, and on how counties must use machines to tabulate votes instead of hand-counting ballots.

All Voting Is Local and other voting rights groups were looking for Fontes to create a manual that has rules “that are most permissible and provide the most access for all Arizona voters,” Rosemary Aliva, the organization’s senior Arizona campaign manager told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. The organization joined 10 other voting rights groups in a coalition to send a letter of requests to Fontes on Tuesday, along with individually sending a 64-page document requesting specific edits.

Scrutiny of the 259-page document is heightened this year in part because of the high stakes of running elections in a swing state as a presidential election approaches. But also, challenges during the state’s 2022 election left some county election officials and state lawmakers in hopes of clarity or changes to state election laws. Those challenges include real mistakes, like ballot printing problems in Maricopa County, but also GOP challenges to time-tested processes such as using machines to count votes and requiring county supervisors to certify election results.

Changes to the state’s laws didn’t come to pass in this year’s legislative session, as partisanship derailed most bills — both because of a slim Republican majority in the statehouse and Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs vetoing any significant proposal to come to her desk. That meant some were looking at Fontes to provide more detail on these controversial voting topics in the manual — not less.

But Fontes didn’t approach his rewrite in this way. As the state sees an influx of new top county election officials, Fontes told Votebeat earlier this year he was stripping down the manual because he wanted it to serve as a straightforward rulebook for those new administrators, so they knew exactly what rules they had to follow — and nothing more. In doing so, he cut the manual by about 14 pages, including several entire sections.

Fontes then shrunk the public comment period to 15 days, down from the 30 days offered in past years, drawing ire from Republicans and a grassroots election integrity group that said he was trying to stifle feedback.

Fontes’ final version will go to Gov. Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes in October, who must approve it by December for it to take effect. 

While Fontes takes the approach that new county administrators need just the rules and nothing more, Aliva said the voting rights groups believe these new administrators need more details, not less. 

“This manual is critical to assist them to carry out the duties of their job,” she said.

One of their big asks is for Fontes to add back a section that he removed on how counties must open voting access to people in jail who are still eligible to vote, and how they must notify people with felony convictions of their right to vote once they complete their sentence and the process on rights restoration.

They’re also concerned about the many areas where Fontes changes instructions from “shall” to “may,” or “must” to “should,” essentially removing rules county officials had previously been required to follow. Voting advocates believe that will lead to weaker and less uniform voting access around the state. 

For example, a requirement that the county recorder “shall establish” on-site early voting at the recorder’s office now says “may establish.” 

Fontes previously told Votebeat he tried to stay true to what law allows when drafting the manual, considering not what he believed should be in there but what legally could be in there.

“I have to be cognizant of not just what I want to see in there, but what the consequences are two, and three and four steps down the road,” Fontes said.

Despite that caution, Petersen is threatening to sue.

He says that one of the “most notable errors” is what he believes is Fontes postponing the implementation of a 2021 state law that requires county officials to begin the process of removing voters from the vote-by-mail list, or Arizona Early Voting List, if they don’t participate in an election for two general election cycles. County administrators were previously under the impression they  would start this process of removing voters after the 2024 cycle. Fontes, in his draft, says that shouldn’t begin until after 2026.

This is where Petersen claims Fontes, by not requiring those removals sooner, is “opening the door for ballots getting into the hands of unintended individuals.”

There have been few convictions in Arizona related to people trying to illegally cast others’ ballots, though, and other rules – such as a requirement to sign your ballot envelope — are set up to prevent vote-by-mail fraud.

Petersen and Toma also say Fontes doesn’t have the authority to use the manual to provide rules on voter registration,  to extend the early voting period for military and overseas voters, and can’t perpetuate the use of ballot drop boxes, “which have no basis in statute.” The manual has explicitly allowed ballot drop boxes since the 2019 version. 

The changes Fontes made to the manual related to hand counting ballots, and whether hand counting is allowed under law, has drawn scrutiny from both lawmakers and voting rights activists. State law doesn’t explicitly state that counties have to use machines to count ballots, leading to recent debate and an increased importance of the manual on this topic.

While he added language saying that full hand counts of ballots can’t happen in certain elections, that language appears only in the section on post-election audits, making it unclear if Fontes meant the rule to apply to the initial count of ballots, too.

While voting rights groups say Fontes should be even more clear about the hand-counting rule, Petersen and Toma say he can’t make this rule at all.

Jen Fifield is a reporter for Votebeat based in Arizona. Contact Jen at jfifield@votebeat.org.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Secure ballots or boondoggle – Cochise County about to waste taxpayer funds

From Votebeat Arizona: a move to give Stevens and Finchem connected company Authentix $1 million

Secure ballots or boondoggle? Arizona county tailors project to politically connected firm

Jen Fifield, Votebeat Arizona

Votebeat is a nonprofit news organization reporting on voting access and election administration across the U.S. Sign up for our free newsletters here.

As an Arizona county prepares to spend up to $1 million in state money to test anti-counterfeit features on ballots, it appears the project was tailored for one company in particular that has pushed the idea with the help of political allies in the state for more than two years.

The idea of adding unique features such as watermarks to ballots is gaining steam as a way to both protect against fraudulent ballots and improve voter confidence. But because the Cochise County pilot was crafted so specifically to describe Texas-based Authentix’s products, election technology experts say it unnecessarily limits the competition for the work while testing unnecessary and expensive products that might even make ballots unreadable to vote-counting machines.

Alex Gulotta, Arizona director of voter advocacy group All Voting is Local, called the venture a “boondoggle.”

“It’s designed specifically to benefit this particular company, and it’s solving a problem that does not exist,” Gulotta said. While Arizona’s failed GOP candidates and leaders have claimed thousands of fake ballots were inserted into Arizona’s 2020 and 2022 elections, courts have found no evidence of any.

But Cochise County supervisors are set to vote on Tuesday to contract with Authentix, as well as  one other company that applied independently. The companies say they will test ballots with features such as watermarks, invisible ink and text, and unique dyes prior to the 2024 presidential election.

Texas-based Authentix specializes in authenticating other types of documents such as tax notes, particularly for foreign governments including Pakistan and Egypt, but appears to have never worked in elections. Still, the firm joined forces with former state Rep. Mark Finchem in 2021, who lost his 2022 bid for secretary of state, to convince state lawmakers across the U.S. to make their products mandatory in ballots.

Finchem has acknowledged a connection to Authentix but revealed few details, telling the Washington Post in 2022 just that he was connected to the company through “somebody who knew somebody.” The connection appears more direct than that. Votebeat found that one of Authentix’s founders, Olaf Halvorssen, was listed in 2021 as a team member of Finchem’s Idaho-based energy nonprofit, Clean Power Technologies, according to the nonprofit’s now-defunct website.

Authentix did not respond to two calls requesting comment or an email with specific questions.  Upon visiting Authentix’s lab in an industrial office park in Addison, Texas — a suburb immediately north of Dallas — a Votebeat reporter was told to consult the company’s website. The company told the Post in 2022 that it did not have current connections to Finchem, who may run for state Senate.

Neither Halvorssen nor Finchem responded to requests for comments.

Finchem’s close friend, Cochise County Recorder David Stevens, will be overseeing the project. He’s helped Finchem promote the idea from the start, by offering a county ballot for use in demonstrations and attending meetings.

Stevens, who also didn’t respond to requests for comment, was the only recorder in the state to apply for the state money, even though all counties were eligible. That may be because the grant was written in a way that allowed only county recorders, not elections directors, to apply, even though in Arizona elections directors typically order and design ballots.

Cochise, a mostly-rural and heavily-Republican county in the southeast corner of the state, appears poised to keep experimenting with election procedures after a tumultuous November in which the county supervisors initially refused to certify the county’s election, and tried to illegally hand count all ballots as part of a post-election audit. Both efforts failed after courts ruled against the supervisors.

Stevens is just now putting the contract with Authentix, along with a contract with election vendor ProVoteSolutions, up for supervisors’ approval, even though the initial deadline for the state grant was in May. The Arizona Department of Administration extended that deadline to September 30 in a letter sent to the county on Thursday.

Authentix and ProVoteSolutions applied for the grant separately and did not coordinate their bids, but Stevens is proposing to hire both of them, according to Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

While the two Republicans on the three-member board are generally supportive of Stevens’ initiatives, meaning the project is likely to move forward, Republican Supervisor Tom Crosby said in an interview last week he doesn’t believe this is the way to make for more secure elections, in part because it doesn’t address his concerns with the lack of tracking of mail-in ballots.

“These ballots, with all their glitter and holograms, we are all going to feel safe, but it does nothing but prevent counterfeit ballots,” Crosby said, adding, “We think. Assuming that some dirty dog isn’t selling ballot paper where they shouldn’t be.”

As GOP leaders in Arizona advocate for laws that would limit all voting systems to be produced by U.S. companies with U.S.-made parts, Votebeat found that Authentix does much of its work with foreign governments and relies heavily on a contract with state-owned company Saudi Aramco, and it’s unclear whether it would get its paper and produce its products in the United States.

Republican Supervisor Peggy Judd said she hadn’t looked into Authentix but said she would only have a problem with the company if they were “affiliated with the mob or China.” Told about Authentix’s background, including its work for Saudi Aramco, Judd said she didn’t have any concerns.

Stevens had few rules to follow for how to run the pilot, which the Legislature created last year.

The state grant simply directed recorders to test out different ways to make ballots more secure, and it couldn’t be in a way that would reveal the identity of an individual voter.

But Finchem had written a detailed roadmap for Stevens to follow.

Finchem started researching ballot security in late 2020, when “there were rumors circulating that somehow ballots had been secretly watermarked,” according to an Oct. 2021 fundraising email he sent out to supporters. Finchem acknowledged that the rumors of watermarked ballots were false, then said, “But it got me to thinking, what if they could be?”

He said that led him to being introduced to an Authentix executive, who said in the fundraising letter that’s when Authentix started to produce new technology for ballots.

In March 2021, Authentix and Finchem made their first big secure-ballot pitch to Arizona lawmakers. Finchem sent out an invitation to state lawmakers to attend a presentation by Authentix about “ballot fraud countermeasures,” according to a copy of the invitation obtained by Votebeat. Stevens replied to the invitation with a “YES”— he would be attending. The presentation took place in the basement of the state Capitol, and Stevens provided a Cochise County ballot for the demonstration, according to the invitation.

In October 2021, Finchem organized a “Ballot Integrity Summit” at Authentix’s office in Addison, Texas, trying to convince visiting state lawmakers to make Authentix’s features mandatory. Stevens, along with state Rep. Leo Biasiucci, attended. The Washington Post subsequently found nearly identical bills describing Authentix’s products in 2022 in four states, including Arizona.

Finchem proposed the initial Arizona bill on the topic in 2021, and another lawmaker picked it up in 2022. The bills, which both failed, would have required the state to use a specific list of 19 security features on ballots — features that closely mirror the products Authentix offers.

Stevens took the first 13 security features on that list and published them verbatim in his request for proposals for the pilot program, asking contractors to explain if they could provide the service.

The requests are very specific. For example, the request calls for  “two-color rainbow print invisible ultraviolet numismatic designs with fine line security relief design that follows the primary images’ design exactly and with a minimum line weight of 0.0424 millimeters.”

The vast majority of these security products are not currently used on ballots in the U.S. — some of them for good reason. “Secure holographic foil,” for example, may be reflective, which could cause the ballots to be unreadable by ballot tabulators. Stevens also requested bar codes, which, if they are unique to individual voters, could make the voters’ individual ballots identifiable.

Authentix answered the specific requests from Stevens with near-verbatim wording.

When asked for “secure holographic foil” with “branded overprint of any hologram,” for example, the company responded that it provides “highly secure holographic foil” with “branded overprint of the hologram.” When asked for “unique, controlled-supply watermarked clearing bank specification 1 security paper,” Authentix said it could provide “genuine watermark cbs1 security paper that cannot be obtained by any other company/individual.” Authentix did not say how or from where it would procure the paper that no one else could.

ProVoteSolutions, which prints election materials for several California counties, also had responses to the requests, although the company sometimes appeared to try to explain why the requests didn’t really make sense for U.S. elections. That type of security paper, they wrote, was generally created for a European market. And while it could do a background image that covers 75% of the ballot, “we have found that invisible ink could affect the black timing marks and OCR sections of a ballot.”

Some of the specifics apply more to Authentix’s current market: authenticating tax notes for foreign governments, which sometimes involves using encrypted bar codes, according to Authentix’s website.

Authentix did not list any recent election-related experience in the information it provided to Cochise County.

Of the five projects the company listed, three were contracts to produce tax stamps for foreign governments — Pakistan, Egypt, and Ghana. The other two were secure document and medical prescription programs for unnamed clients.

As of 2016, one of the company’s largest contracts was tagging overseas fuel for state-owned Saudi Aramco, a contract that was critical to the company’s valuation, some of the company shareholders told a court in 2020. Authentix also has a team based in China.

Ann English, Cochise County’s lone Democratic supervisor, said she is not sure why Stevens is trying to work with companies “that print for banks, not ballots.”

English called the pilot project “another solution looking for a problem that does not exist.”

“The whole process of secure paper has escalated to the point of ridiculousness,” she said. “If a person tries to vote twice, the system will not allow it. End of story.”

Cochise County resident Ali Morse said she is concerned by the connections between Authentix and Finchem, and Finchem and Stevens, especially since “there’s a boatload of money to be made” if Arizona counties start using secure features on ballots.

She also thinks it’s all a little much.

“The sophisticated security features that Authentix advertises are unwarranted overkill for our ballots that have no history of being fraudulent,” she said.

Morse reached out to other county recorders in the state to see why they didn’t participate in the pilot program. Emails she provided to Votebeat show many recorders told her ballot ordering is the job of the elections director.

After the 2020 election, Finchem claimed without evidence that 35,000 fake ballots were cast in Pima County. Shortly after that, Finchem started working with Authentix on what he said was a solution to the fake ballots, even though he provided no evidence that fake ballots existed.

David Levine, senior elections integrity fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, says this may be an example of the “cottage industry” that spreads the stolen election narrative, and then profits from it.

“I think this entire situation deserves tremendous scrutiny,” Levine said.

Still, separate from the Arizona pilot, election officials, state lawmakers and vendors across the country are exploring ways to increase the security of ballots, recognizing that some voters would feel more confident if they had a way to authenticate individual ballots. ES&S, for example, is evaluating paper technologies and “plan to make [those services] available at a future date,” company spokesperson Katina Granger said.

California has had a law requiring watermarks for decades. Georgia started putting a security feature in ballots in 2019 and made it a requirement in 2021, and Tennessee also enacted a new law requiring watermarks on all ballots that year.

But those states all just use one secure feature – in California and Tennessee, it’s watermarks, and in Georgia, it’s something baked into the paper that a tabulation machine or special wand can identify. In contrast, Cochise’s pilot is considering more than a dozen different security features.

Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, said the smart way to go about it is to work with the election vendors in the state and with counties to see what’s practical and cost-effective.

Sterling said that the numerous products in Arizona’s pilot seem like “overkill” and said officials in the state should be working with machine manufacturers or they are just “shooting blind.”

The rules vary on how the secure features in these states are verified when ballots are returned, but it’s generally left up to local clerks.

While checking for watermarks is relatively easy, as they are visible to the human eye or with special lights, it’s unclear how local election officials would be able to check the authenticity of the proposed features in Arizona, which is crucial for this idea to work, according to the OSET Institute, an election technology nonprofit.

The Arizona pilot will test if certain features can work in ballot tabulators, but the manufacturer of Cochise County’s voting machines, ES&S will not be helping the county with the testing, Granger said.

Along with planning to hire Authentix and ProVoteSolutions, Stevens has already ordered ballots and a watermarking device, called a dandy roll, from Runbeck Election Services. He paid Runbeck $187,500 for the supplies in January, according to a receipt obtained by Votebeat, and asked the state for reimbursement for the items.

Authentix’s proposal has a cost of about $2.75 a ballot, about double the cost of ProVoteSolutions’ ballots, at $1.30 to $1.40 each.

Levine said that in the ideal situation, the requirements for companies wouldn’t be so specific, to enable more competitors, which makes the products and the prices better.

“What we have here is a barrier to the competition that is becoming a barrier to improve elections.”

Jen Fifield is a reporter for Votebeat based in Arizona. Contact Jen at jfifield@votebeat.org.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Threads and politicians

Threads is not quite there yet - but smart politicians are using it

Per Lauren Irwin/Cronkite News:

Here is how two Arizona politicians are using Threads

"In his first post on Threads, Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, reintroduced himself to constituents with a “refresher on what I’ve been fighting for & will continue fighting for.” Stanton, who has both professional and personal accounts, has posted about town hall meetings, Sky Harbor neighborhood improvements, record-breaking temperatures and the state’s water supply issues.

Despite the buzz around Threads, Selepak does not foresee a lot of energy and marketing resources pouring into the app, which he thinks will instead become a place for repurposed content to find new audiences.

When Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Tucson, published a video of himself on Threads drawing on an official House of Representatives pad, he also posted his “GrijalvArt” to other social media platforms."

Read more about it on Cronkite News.