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Opinion

What the Devil won't tell you

John Brakey and when 'the fix' is the fix that's in — the fraudit

'I don't think I'm a lunatic' — Pima 'election integrity' gadfly lends Democratic voice to Republican recounting charade

The night was Super Tuesday, 2008.

The results of the primaries were done and dusted in every county except one – Pima County. My job that night was to write an analysis piece about the results and give a local Arizona angle to the results of races all over the country.

The copy desk was in a huff and yelling at me across the newsroom. It was after 10 p.m. They all wanted to go home. The paper had to be put to bed. They insisted I turn in my story.

Except I couldn’t. Without seeing how Pima County wound up, the state had not been called for any candidate. This was like covering an Arizona basketball game and being told to file the story with 5 minutes left in regulation.

Sure, you know how it’s likely going to end but if there’s a late run or a 2005 Elite Eight-style collapse against Illinois, someone’s gonna look stupid. No one will blame the copy desk. Everyone will laugh at the guy with the byline.

“Why can’t you finish the damn story?” a perturbed copy chief barked across the newsroom.

I just sighed and said “elections integrity.” You see George W. Bush really lost Ohio in 2004 and to make sure such a thing never happened again, the Pima County Democratic Party had sued Pima County. The county settled. Now counting a ballot was akin to launching the nation’s siloed intercontinental ballistic missiles. There was a process, with multiple steps and checks and balances and double-checks to throw the checkers off balance.

At the center of it all, was John Brakey.

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John Brakey of the recent “bamboo ballot fame.” He relayed a claim made by others involved in the Republican-prompted, Trumped-up "audit" of ballots in Maricopa County – then he personally espoused about how 40,000 ballots were … something, something China … something something bamboo … mumbo jumbo fibers of the paper … we're not going to repeat the lie here.

Brakey is now an adviser to what I've been calling a fraudit of the Maricopa County ballots. He's helped launch election integrity crusades in Pima County as a liberal Democrat. Here's to hoping he isn't destroying the democracy he's spent 15 years trying to save by providing a bipartisan patina to the Maricopa meltdown.

Now, he’s been specifically advising former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, whose relationship to the audit grows more tenuous and ambiguous. 

Crusader

Brakey never stopped his tilting at the windmills of elections integrity. He's continued to be involved in lawsuits against Pima County and jurisdictions across the country.

With the fraudit starting up again this week up at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Brakey is lending a Democratic voice to the chorus of babble trying to justify this sham operation … sorry, guys, it just is.

In Arizona, election integrity has been a progressive Democratic obsession (though not shared by all progressives) and now it may be boomeranging on them.

What Brakey and others want is for all the ballots to be available to the public in an electronic file.

“Elections aren’t any good unless they are transparent and public and verifiable,” Brakey told me in an interview. “Don’t trust us. Count it yourself.”

Oh man, that’s a maximalist view of elections integrity and public records. I can also see the tinfoil type in the basement counting “four hundred thousand three hundred and thirty eight … four hundred thousand three hundred and thirty nine … four hundred … where was I? Hold on. One … two …”

That’s what he’s fighting for now.

He started in 2006 battling Arizona GOP political consultant Nathan Sproul, who was viewed by many on the left as being a dirty trickster when it came to ground-level voter fraud. In fact, three of Sproul's consulting firm’s employees pleaded guilty in 2012 of altering or destroying voter registration forms. Mitt Romney’s team severed ties over the case.

Guess who resurrected Brakey? Yep, Donald John Trump. The man only cares about election integrity.

He did help force Pima County to make changes to how it counts votes. No longer would the results be transmitted from the precincts to election headquarters. They would be sealed in a locked pouch, driven into election central and counted there.

At the time they started making hay, the county was starting to use voting machines and Team Brakey insisted on a paper trail for ballots that could be used to verify results.

Feast for fears

It wasn’t just him of course. It was a team that included showboating state Rep. Ted Downing and Pima County Democratic Party chairs Donna Branch-Gilby and Vince Rabago.

There are 50 states and more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. running elections. No county does elections exactly the same, so how do we know which are doing it exactly right?

A guy like Brakey has a lot to feast on in either spreading best practices or charging hard against the fix he just knows is in.

Arizona, for instance, runs logic and accuracy tests on our voting machines. Brakey's gripe is that they are done before the election and can be programmed to pass the test but go back to cheating afterward.

Companies do kind of leave themselves open to this because their software is proprietary – meaning the government doesn’t get to see how the codes work. Except that hand audits of the results showed no problems with the vote. OK, but Brakey is concerned that the ballots for auditing are pre-selected, which casts doubt on the verification process, he says. He wasn’t really able to convey how that has been abused or misused but whatevvvs.

I’ll give him this. His concerns are specific, known and testable. That's opposed to the current reviewers of ballots whose fears are notional, imagined, irrational or just full-on nuts.

Also, anyone who has covered local and state politics knows about what I call the Gadfly Effect. Helicopter citizens hovering around governing bodies tend to elevate practices.

Die bold

Brakey's involvement in the belabored aftermath of the 2020 election was probably inevitable.

The True Progressives were the first ones in Arizona pushing the slogan of elections integrity. That 2004 loss in Ohio stuck in many liberal craws.

Diebold — not Dominion — then served as the corporate bogeyman making voting machines. Unlike Dominion, Diebold inflicted a senseless wound upon its corporate foot when CEO Walden O’Dell wrote in a 2004 fundraising letter that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver it’s electoral votes to George W. Bush.”

That hit the company in the wallet as shareholders questioned the wisdom of the guy asking communities to trust him to count their ballot would promise to assist the guy at the top of those ballots.

Ohio proved the pivotal state and Kerry lost it by a close but decisive 200,000 votes. A conspiracist notion was born.

And in Pima County, liberal Democrats localized it.

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“It was the progressives and liberals who were first into this,” Brakey said. “The hard-core Democrats were never into this.”

That’s on me sort of. When I was inside Democratic politics, I was part of the team that moved away from elections integrity as a core mission. Message and field were what the party should focus on, rather than blaming “the fix” being in for why Democrats were having problems winning in Arizona.

Mari maximum copa

Brakey and others kept going. They spent years going after the Maricopa County elections department. They had in their sights the Sequoia Voting Machines and – wait for it – vote by mail.

So the fix was in. Maricopa County botched the whole count, right? I mean listen to what Brakey said about that.

“There’s no voter fraud. Maricopa County runs one of the best operations around.”

Wait. What?

Brakey doesn’t think the current fraudit will find any evidence of voter fraud — and that’s why he says he’s involved.

“We may be able to peel some of these people (who give credence to voter fraud) in 2022,” Brakey said. “But the only way we are going to convince people is with facts.”

And that is my problem with what Brakey is doing.

Golly? What are they up to?

In his zeal to save democracy, he may end up helping the effort to destroy it by taking part in this charade.

I get a little tired of the feigned ignorance of national observers cluelessly wondering what the MAGA Party is after. 

"Why are the Republicans waging a war on democracy, while demanding universal loyalty to an individual so revered that to question him is to be an enemy of the American people and to defy him is treason? And how does that tie in with an anschluss against urban elites, gays, multiculturalism, the free press, academia and modernism? What does this coalition of rural religious traditionalists, heavy industry and ethno-nationalists want as they seek to lionize white men and police power to crack down on the opposition? I went to Harvard and studied history but I'm stumped!"

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It's called fascism.  It's as obvious now as it was popular then.

Yes, the fraudit is a national joke. Yes, the firm running it is called “CyberNinjas.” No, it’s not following any sort of standard or practice that can be replicated. Therefore, no, it won’t find any forensic, eyewitness or circumstantial evidence any court would accept. But its goal is to provide what the Salem folks would call “spectral evidence.”

“I felt the spirit of the God Emperor Trump move in me and compel me to to the realization that Lizzie Proctor voted from the grave for Joe Biden with the mark of the devil!”

Also, a similar audit is set to start in Georgia and likely beyond.

The conspiracist web-weavers don’t need evidence. They just need a narrative – a story they can tell themselves about how the election was stolen.

We can laugh, but unless Democrats win control of the Legislature in 2022, Republicans will be in a position to award Donald Trump (or Ron DiSantis) the state’s 11 electoral votes no matter how election night works out in Arizona.

All they gotta tell themselves is “Democrats stole the last one. We’re stealing it back.”

Or do we think if Trump runs again and loses again, we think this time he’ll concede and bow out gracefully?

Do we think the Supreme Court will save us? Highly debatable. Opinion is all over the place but the only opinions that matter are five Supreme Court justices. Justice Neil Gorsuch is the Smart One (though Amy Coney Barrett’s got some chops) on the court’s Right flank and he issued this rather frightening opinion in a Wisconsin case leading up to the 2020 election.

“The Constitution provides that state legislatures — not federal judges, not state judges, not state governors, not other state officials — bear primary responsibility for setting election rules."

The same Constitution uses similar exclusive language relating to the legislatures and the Electoral College. Chief Justice John Roberts used a similar restrictive definition of "legislature" in his dissenting opinion in the case of Arizona Legislature v. Arizona Redistricting Commission.

Can you hear the time bomb tick? 

It doesn't have to be a conspiracy to establish fascist rule, but agendas can converge to establish it.

So even if a Democrat wins the governor’s seat, the Legislature may have a path to appoint the electors through joint resolution that doesn’t require a governor’s signature.

But if Joe Biden wins the state by five points, that would be a 150,000-ish-vote margin and settle the matter, right?

Consider, Brakey and his team spent seven years in court arguing Pima County’s 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election was rigged. The ayes took that by nearly 20 points on election night.

Once either side becomes convinced the election process is soiled, no actual factual result settles the matter.

“I’m a passionate fool, but I don’t think I’m a lunatic,” Brakey says with a degree of self awareness and maybe history. Let's hope he's taking part in a foot note and not a turning point.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.


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May 26, 2021, 6:09 pm
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Why are there so many crazy old white men in Arizona?

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John Brakey has been been leading Arizona's progressive Democrats' crusade for elections integrity for 15 years. Now he may be on the brink of either saving or ruining democracy.

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