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By: Paul Atkinson on 11/13/2011
Supporters of soon-to-be former Senate President Russell Pearce say the idea to have another candidate in the race to divert votes backfired. Olivia Cortes dropped out of the recall election after she revealed in court that she had no idea who paid for people to collect signatures or who paid for and put up signs with her name on them. It’s not the first time a so-called “sham candidate” has been used and it may not be the last. KJZZ’s Paul Atkinson has the first in a two-part series looking at the questionable campaign tactic.
Steve May can sympathize with Olivia Cortes, the so called ‘sham candidate’ in the recall election of Russell Pearce. May was the mastermind behind a half dozen people running as Green party candidates in the 2010 general election.
STEVE MAY “All the media wanted to do was ‘oh these are fake homeless people who can’t possibly be real and Steve May is out recruiting and paying people—paying drunken bums living under bridges to run for office. None of that’s true! That’s what our opposition said. But nobody wanted to report what we said –which is no, these are legitimate folks who want to have a voice. Yeah, they are untraditional, yeah that’s true.”
May, a former Republican legislator, says the whole thing started when he encouraged a friend named “grandpa” to run as a Green party candidate in the same race he later ran for—District 17 House of Representatives, but was prevented after Democrats challenged “Grandpa’s” nominating petitions.
STEVE MAY “That was the revolution. It wasn’t hey, lets use fake candidates to steal votes from Democrats that they don’t own anyway. It was ‘hey, we’re going to show people that we can run, and that we can have a voice. And if they want to kick us off the ballot, well, screw you, we’re going to get back on!”
May found a provision of state election law that allowed anyone to get on the general election ballot as a write-in candidate for a party other than Republican, Democrat and Libertarian.
STEVE MAY “So I said ‘Grandpa, you can get back on the ballot with one vote. If you vote for yourself then you can be on the ballot. He said cool, lets do it. I said great, then get me everybody else out here on Mill Ave and lets get everybody else on the ballot too for every race we can because I’m pissed off the Democratic party knocked you off the ballot. That’s how that happened.”
Green Party attorney Keith Beacham sued to stop the so called “sham candidates.”
KEITH BEACHAM, Sept 2010 “Mr. May and others want to siphon votes from the Democrats by having people mistakingly believe the green party people on the ballot are actually green party candidates when they are not.”
A judge allowed three people recruited by Steve May to remain on the ballot. A few others dropped out. But the judge ruled that one Green Party candidate not recruited by May actively sought to defraud voters. Democratic attorney Michael Manning helped form Truth AZ dot com to expose the trickery.
MICHAEL MANNING, Sept 2010 “I mean this is truly a perversion of our electoral process in 2010. It is a repeat of what happened in 2008.”
Only in 2008, it cost a Democratic lawmaker her seat in the Arizona House of Representatives.
JACKIE THRASHER “I lost by 553 votes. We had 6 people in that race, however, two democrats, two republicans, a green, and a libertarian.”
Jackie Thrasher was running in her first re-election campaign in district 10 in northwest Phoenix. She faced Republican Doug Quelland whom she beat two years earlier and Republican House Speaker Jim Weiers. There was also a Green Party candidate—Margarite Dale. Thrasher wasn’t worried about her until seeing who gave Dale five dollar donations to qualify for more than 68-thousand dollars in Clean Elections campaign funding.
JACKIE THRASHER “I found that the speaker Wiers, some members of his family, Doug Quelland, members of his family, just about every Republican precinct committee person that I knew had contributed five dollars to her qualifying for Clean Elections funding.”
Thrasher also looked at the Green party candidate expenditures, which included multiple payments to a conservative Republican blogger.
JACKIE THRASHER “If Margarite Dale had been a real green candidate and was sincere in wanting to run, I thought it was great…but I found out otherwise. And that’s the problem, how many of my neighbors found out otherwise.”
Not enough. Dale received more than 23-hundred votes. Thrasher lost by less than a quarter as many. She says things might have been different if the media had caught on to the scheme.
JACKIE THRASHER “Nobody really cared that this was happening, but me. You know I was telling people ‘oh my gosh look at this. I think this is an issue here. I think something hinkey is going on.’ And really nobody—I didn’t get any traction out of it.”
One of the Republicans who beat her--Doug Quelland—was later forced out of office for violating Clean Elections laws. Two years later, Republicans tried to run another Green party candidate in the same race, only this time, the candidate was determined to be a fraud and kicked off the ballot by a judge.
Despite quitting the recent senate recall race, Olivia Cortes still got one-percent of the vote. But the candidate she hoped to help—Senate President Russell Pearce lost. For KJZZ, I’m Paul Atkinson