by Steven Hale
Tennessee Citizen Action executive director Mary Mancini said today it's "beyond ridiculous" that the Davidson County Election Commission would consider going back on its decision not to use electronic poll books in this fall's general elections. She said it didn't make "any sense at all" that the Metro Council, which had voted to withhold funds for the expansion of EPBs, will be reconsidering that decision next week as well.
"They did the right thing," she told reporters at a press conference outside the Howard Office Building this afternoon. "The Metro Council put a process in place, and the Davidson County Election Commission put a process in place that would enable voters to have complete trust in fair and accurate elections. And now it looks like both are going back on that, for no real valid reason."
Since the revelation that some Davidson County voters, including several elected officials, had received Republican ballots in error — apparently due to programming of the EPBs that made it easier for poll workers to select a ballot for the majority party — Tennessee Citizen Action has been calling for independent audits of the county election commission. Last week they were joined by members of the Metro Council, who called for an audit as well as the withdrawal of funds for the expansion of EPBs to all Nashville voting precincts. There has not yet been an audit, but at their respective meetings, tomorrow and Sept. 18, the election commission and the council will consider going ahead with the use and expansion of the EPBs.
"They're rushing into something that does not need to be rushed into," Mancini said today.
While much of the focus has been on some voters apparently receiving Republican ballots by default, Mancini explained other problems that have arisen as a result of trouble with the EPBs.
Among those were issues with the EPBs' ability to properly sort voters in split precincts — that is, for example, precincts that serve voters from two different state House districts — and to pull up the accurate voter profile after a voter's ID has been scanned.
Mancini relayed her own experience on election day in August, saying that despite voting at the same polling location for nearly 20 years, an EPB could not find her voter history after her ID was scanned.
In her remarks, and in information passed out to reporters, Mancini also drew attention to problems in other states that have purchased election equipment from Election Systems and Software (ES&S), the vendor who sells the EPBs. In one example, from Florida in 2004, ES&S machines apparently started counting backward once they reached their voting capacity.
Along with continuing to call for an audit of the election commission, and urging the commission and the council not to go back on their previous decisions, Tennessee Citizen Action will also be submitting an open records request. They'll be asking for: "Correspondence between or related to DCEC and the State Election Coordinator Mark Goins and his staff"; "Correspondence between or related to DCEC and ES&S, the vendor of the EPBs"; and "Correspondence between or related to True the Vote, an organization specializing in suppressing the vote of minority voters and students."
Later this afternoon, Davidson County's U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper issued a statement on the matter, that more or less echoed Mancini's sentiments.
“I’m concerned that every voter at Trinity Lane United Methodist Church (a heavily populated African-American precinct) was initially issued a Republican ballot," the statement reads. "What would have happened if every voter in Belle Meade had been issued a Democratic ballot? What’s going on here? Why should we pay for defective equipment? Why should we turn over the security of our ballot to a company with so many problems over the years? We should go back to the system that worked for all Nashvillians.”