Fascinating story from the Times’s Marc Lacey on sham candidates running for the Green Party in Tempe, Arizona. Sham candidates, that is, signed up by a Republican candidate for the State Legislature to siphon off votes from the Democrats.

Naturally, Lacey reports the expected outrage from the Dems:

“It’s unbelievable. It’s not right. It’s deceitful,” said Jackie Thrasher, a former Democratic legislator in northwest Phoenix who lost re-election in 2008 after a Green Party candidate with possible links to the Republicans joined the race. “If these candidates were interested in the democratic process, they should connect with the party they are interested in. What’s happening here just doesn’t wash. It doesn’t pass the smell test.”

It may not pass the “smell test” but, according to Lacey, it passes the test for what might be pretty standard in the Grand Canyon State.

Arizona, where Democrats, Republicans and independents each represent about a third of the populace, is known for its political hardball.…This is not the first election in which a party has accused another of putting forth candidates to hoodwink voters.

Besides the Mill Rat candidates, the Democrats smell a rat in other races, including one in which a roommate of a Republican legislator’s daughter ran as a Green Party candidate in a competitive contest for the State Senate.

The best section of the piece comes when the Republican who signed up the sham candidates, Steve May, offers a defense:

“Did I recruit candidates? Yes,” said Mr. May, who is himself a candidate for the State Legislature, on the Republican ticket. “Are they fake candidates? No way.”

To make his point, Mr. May went by Starbucks, the gathering spot of the Mill Rats, as the frequenters of Mill Avenue are known.

“Are you fake, Benjamin?” he yelled out to Mr. Pearcy, who cried out “No,” with an expletive attached.

“Are you fake, Thomas?” Mr. May shouted in the direction of Thomas Meadows, 27, a tarot card reader with less than a dollar to his name who is running for state treasurer. He similarly disagreed.

“Are you fake, Grandpa?” he said to Anthony Goshorn, 53, a candidate for the State Senate whose bushy white beard and paternal manner have earned him that nickname on the streets. “I’m real,” he replied.

While there is, let’s face it, something slightly uncomfortable about all this—here’s a chance to laugh at a tarot card reader and a homeless guy with the nickname “Grandpa” who want to play politician—it’s a well-reported look at a local phenom of some interest.

However, there does seem to be one crucial piece missing in Lacey’s piece, and that’s any comment from anyone who is genuinely a part of the Arizona Greens Party. I could have guessed what Ms. Thrasher would say. Other than advising their members to steer clear of the “rogue candidates,” I’ll have to actually guess what the Green Party might have said.

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.