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VOL. 125 | NO. 163 | Monday, August 23, 2010

Election Results Saga Not Over Yet

By Bill Dries

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The Aug. 5 election results are certified. But the events of the coming week will determine whether that’s the final word on who won and who lost.

With the results approved by the Shelby County Election Commission, the local Democratic Party and several Democratic candidates who lost must decide if they want to go back to Chancery Court. They have five days to make a decision to file.

A lawsuit to overturn the results and have new elections ordered would be a second act to an initial lawsuit filed earlier this month. Chancellor Walter Evans rejected a call then to throw out the vote count, but he set terms for a review of voting machines and procedures by the local party and its experts.

The certification vote Thursday followed an internal review of the election-day problem that concluded the wrong data – an early voters list from the May elections – was downloaded into electronic poll books used at the polls on the Aug. 5 election day.

Election Commissioners Robert Meyers and James Johnson – one a Republican and the other a Democrat – concluded it was a mistake and that the number of voters using failsafe affidavits as well as provisional ballots was “roughly consistent with the percentage of registered voters participating in this election.”

Total voter turnout, both early and on election day, for the Aug. 5 elections was approximately 30 percent of the county’s 600,000 voters.

Meyers and Johnson added in their report, “Certainly, turning away any eligible voter is unacceptable.”

The Election Commission estimated the potential number of voters affected – those who might have been told they had already early voted when they hadn’t – was 5,390. Of that estimate, 1,952 voted with the failsafe procedure. Another 210 cast provisional ballots.

Election commissioners have had little to say beyond the report since the first lawsuit was filed. A call to the Election Commission last week to ask when the commission would meet was referred to John Ryder, the commission’s attorney in the matter.

The solutions recommended in the internal report include automating the process of loading the early voters list into the poll books, having a second employee verify that the correct data is in the poll books and increase training of election day officials.

Some voters who were initially told they had voted early when they didn’t have complained that they were told to leave the polling places or to go to Election Commission headquarters Downtown.

They have said they were offered a failsafe affidavit or provisional ballot only after they refused to leave the polls and polling officials then reluctantly called Election Commission officials.

Democratic and Republican party leaders began getting phone calls from voters turned away at the polls shortly after election day began at 7 a.m. Some of the candidates on the ballot were among those turned away.

Still to come are the results of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe as well as an investigation by the state Division of Elections. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen has also requested an investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Dept.

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