Federal authorities on Wednesday seized all the ballots cast in a disputed 2004 Republican primary election that was overturned after a controversial recount. FBI agents picked up the nearly 18,000 ballots from a heavily secured building in Phoenix and took them to an undisclosed location.
Authorities will now examine the ballots and try to determine if tampering changed the outcome of the race.
After receiving a federal subpoena on Tuesday, Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert said he was relieved to finally release the ballots for inspection.
Schweikert said he wasn’t told how long the investigation will take and federal authorities contacted by the Tribune would not comment on the inquiry.
The dispute over the District 20 primary began in September 2004, when it appeared Anton Orlich had won the Republican state House race in the district, which generally covers western Chandler, Ahwatukee Foothills and southern Tempe. A mandatory recount later turned up 489 new votes, giving the nomination to his opponent, John McComish.
Orlich and his supporters have since demanded an investigation. But it wasn’t until Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, started raising questions late last year that attention began to escalate.
The Senate ultimately agreed to hire an elections expert to inspect the voting machines and the ballots. Douglas Jones from the University of Iowa inspected the machines in December but was denied access to the ballots by Schweikert.
Jones issued a report saying that either machine error or ballot tampering caused the additional votes. But without seeing the ballots, he said that he could not say for sure.
No evidence of wrongdoing has been found to date.
The federal investigation comes as the Senate and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office were near agreement to launch their own inquiry.
“We’re very pleased with the investigation and are cooperating fully,” said Barnett Lotstein, special assistant county attorney.
The county attorney’s office had been critical of Harper’s handling of the investigation.