PHOENIX — Calling machine-counted voting ripe for fraud, an attorney for the Libertarian Party asked the state Court of Appeals today to let trial judges impose new oversight procedures.

William Risner said the protections in existing state laws against tampering with results are insufficient to combat the ease of tinkering with the computerized system that tallies the ballots and spits out a report of what it has found.

"Right now there is a black box," he told the judges. "Not a single ballot, for any county race or bond election is ever audited."

But under questioning from Judge Kent Cattani, Risner said he's not much more confident in the procedures for monitoring national and statewide races. Risner said he believes these, too, can be rigged by anyone with decent computer skills.

The fight is most immediately an outgrowth of a 2006 election in Pima County to levy a sales tax to pay for regional transportation improvements.

It's too late for Risner and those who believe that election was rigged to change the outcome or get rid of the levy. But he wants the appellate judges to let him prove that the results were not as advertised — and then put procedures in place to prevent future problems.

And that could have statewide implications, paving the way for judges to order additional auditing of virtually any political contest or ballot measure.

That possibility appeared to concern the appellate judges. Cattani suggested to Risner that if he and his clients find the existing oversight procedures in state law inadequate they should probably take their case to the Legislature.

"I wish the Legislature would address this," Risner responded. But he said that does not preclude the courts from stepping in to protect the rights of voters.

"The courts have a responsibility," he said, saying it's no different than asking a judge to step in to protect an individual's First Amendment rights.

Risner specifically wants courts to allow for "graphic scanning" of ballots.

In essence, the original paper ballots would be counted as they are now by tabulating equipment. Then pictures would be taken of the same ballots, with separate — and independent — equipment tallying the votes and comparing them with what the county's own equipment found.

"Graphic scanning sounds like a good idea," said Judge John Gemmill.

But attorney Ronna Fickbohm, representing Pima County, said that's legally irrelevant.

She said state law sets out the procedures for exactly what can — and cannot — be done with ballots. That includes a requirement that, after official counting, they be sealed and, unless there is a court challenge, be destroyed.

Fickbohm said if Risner or anyone wants graphic scanning they need to have the Legislature amend the laws.