PHOENIX - Secretary of State Jan Brewer on Thursday defended the decision to purchase touch-screen voting equipment from the Diebold Corp.
Her comments came during and after what was supposed to be a routine announcement by the Glendale Republican who wants another four years in office.
But a small group of protestors, apparently mobilized by comments made Thursday morning about Diebold by a Phoenix radio talk show host, showed up with hand-made signs decrying the purchase.
A Brewer campaign worker had to call Capitol police to have the protestors moved back so Brewer could give her speech - a speech which boasted of the state getting rid of the last punch card ballots as part of her accomplishments since being elected in 2002 but one that never mentioned the Diebold contract.
But Brewer, responding to media questions, called the noisy protestors "anarchists" and said they were off base.
"I don't think there is a problem with the Diebold equipment," she said. Brewer said a committee investigated the bids and the machines passed on the guidelines.
"I think that there are a lot of conspiracy theorists out there that are trying to blow this completely, totally out of proportion," she said.
Most Arizona counties already have bought and use Diebold machines for optical scanning of ballots.
Brewer's office got involved after federal law required states to purchase machines for their counties which are accessible to the disabled. That led to an award Friday to buy touch-screen machines for every polling place, most of them from Diebold.
Last year Leon County, Fla., got rid of its Diebold scanners after it was shown they can be "hacked" to alter election results without leaving a trace. Since that time some other communities have refused to purchase machines from that company.
But state Elections Director Joe Kanefield, who works for Brewer, said that Florida test was meaningless.
"It was a flaw that could be inherent in any system if security measures are not in place," he said. Kanefield said the testers were given access to the heart of the machine, something he said cannot happen with the protocols that govern Arizona election law.
"I established very precise procedures and security measure so this would not happen in Arizona," she said.
One of the protestors Thursday was Ernest Hancock, a long-time Libertarian Party activist who hopes to be his party's nominee for Brewer's office. He complained that the touch screens are flawed because they leave no paper trail to be counted if there are questions about whether a machine accurately recorded the votes.
Kanefield said, though, the machines ordered by the state do produce a paper receipt which is kept by election officials in case of a court challenge.
Brewer, a former state senator and Maricopa County supervisor, faces a primary challenge from former Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza. The only other formally announced candidate in the race is former Tucson city councilman Bruce Wheeler.