The results of the Aug. 2 election on a Millington sales tax hike were changed Tuesday, Oct. 9, to show the tax hike for a municipal school district was approved by 12 votes instead of losing by three votes.
The court order by Chancellor Arnold Goldin came after attorneys for the city of Millington, who filed suit contesting the previous results, and the attorney for the Shelby County Election Commission agreed there was a “mathematical certainty” that the half-cent sales tax hike passed.
“There doesn’t seem to be any question about it,” Goldin said after both sides told him they agreed on the resolution of the dispute.
The summary judgment means there will be no re-vote on the Millington sales tax hike.
It also means Millington voters – some of whom are already voting absentee and others who will still see the countywide sales tax hike ballot question on the early voting ballot starting next week – will not be eligible to vote on the countywide sales tax hike.
They will not be included in the vote on the countywide sales tax hike because the court order and new vote total now show they approved their Millington sales tax hike.
“I’ll leave that to other minds to figure out,” said attorney Lang Wiseman, who represented the city of Millington and several citizens in the court action contesting the results, when asked about how that distinction would be handled.
The resolution of that part of the process was not a part of the legal proceedings. But Wiseman said the Election Commission should be more vigilant.
“I’m always amazed by people who make remarks about how there’s no such thing as voter fraud.”
Attorney representing city of Millington
“If anything, it will cause some eyes to be opened and maybe some ‘I’s dotted and ‘T’s crossed,” he said after the hearing. “I’m always amazed by people who make remarks about how there’s no such thing as voter fraud. The fact of the matter is that unless or until you are looking at an election with a small enough margin that it matters, no one looks. There’s no reason to look. Things like this happen all over the place. You just don’t ever see it because no one goes looking for it.”
It is the third election that Wiseman and Chris Patterson have contested since 2006 and in each they found irregularities.
Election Commission attorney Sam Muldavin said the Millington case in unique because it involved an area annexed by Millington just before early voting began in July. The annexation was then put on hold by a lawsuit after early voting began and Millington deannexed the Lucy area still later also while voting was under way.
“The mistake ultimately had to do with what retrospectively turned out to be the erroneous distribution of ballots,” Muldavin said. “It was the distribution of those ballots and utilization of those ballots by, at the time legal voters, that caused the mess.”
But Wiseman said the two recounts he undertook showed more than simply voters getting the wrong ballot in the annexation confusion.
“People who lived not even in the annexation area voted,” he said. “Hopefully this will be a wake-up call for people in general and the Election Commission in particular.”
Millington Mayor Linda Carter, who was also a plaintiff in the legal action, acknowledged the annexation posed some unique circumstances beyond the other problems reported across Shelby County during early voting and the Aug. 2 election day. Those broader problems involved voters getting the wrong district races and voters in split precincts being told as a group that they couldn’t vote in municipal schools referendums that some were eligible to vote in.
“I’m grateful that it was handled in this manner,” Carter said of the court decision.
But she and others in the Millington lawsuit contend election officials at polling places could have corrected problems but were, in some cases, telling voters to go ahead and vote the ballot as it was and they would correct the count later.
“I think the bigger issue here is perhaps the restoration of public trust in the election process,” she said. “I don’t know if it is because we don’t take this seriously enough from the Election Commission perspective everywhere or if we as citizens don’t take it seriously enough to demand that the Election Commission report their work in a timely manner, in an efficient manner.”
Chancellor Kenny Armstrong is scheduled to hear another challenge of August election results Wednesday, Oct. 10, by countywide school board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. Whalum lost to Kevin Woods by 108 votes in the certified vote count for the District 4 school board race.