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VOL. 125 | NO. 196 | Friday, October 8, 2010

Goldin Dismisses Election Challenge Suit

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini said he learned some things from the Chancery Court lawsuit challenging the results of the Aug. 5 election.

Although he’s pleased with Chancellor Arnold Goldin’s dismissal of the lawsuit on Thursday, Giannini said the problems pointed out by the plaintiffs will be the basis for tightening procedures.

“I have learned through this process the imperfections in having 1,500 temporary employees,” he said. “I think the most important thing we can do right now is do a much more thorough job of training with employees that we bring in and certainly a higher level of training.”

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs, 10 candidates who lost in the Aug. 5 Shelby County elections, are weighing an appeal.

Their attorneys had completed their proof when Goldin dismissed the case saying they had failed to meet the standards for seeking to overturn the entire election.

“This case started with innuendos and allegations that essentially alleged a conspiracy to manipulate the results of the election,” Goldin said from the bench.

What he heard in a day of testimony from the plaintiffs and depositions he read from election officials was that no one under oath who testified believed the problems were intentional.

Goldin applauded officials for discovering within the first half hour the polls were open the wrong early voter list had been loaded into electronic poll books and moving quickly to correct the problem.

“This was not a perfect solution, but 2,025 people voted,” he said, referring to the number of voters who showed up as having already voted but were allowed to cast provisional or failsafe ballots. “It may not have been convenient but it worked.”

Regina Morrison Newman, one of the plaintiffs who also testified during the trial, said there were other problems with the tabulation that Goldin didn’t consider. Those problems were cited by the plaintiffs as they delved into the election process in the days following the election.

Plaintiffs attorney Gerard Stranch based the challenge on a sample of 11 of more than 230 precincts from Aug. 5 that account for a total of 4,000 to 5,000 votes. Stranch claimed vote totals in those 11 precincts could not be reconciled.

Election Commission attorney Sam Muldavin told Goldin there was a fundamental misunderstanding by the plaintiffs about how to read data from the voting machines.

Goldin was specific in his ruling that he considered the electronic poll book error to be the central issue, a mistake that Giannini acknowledged before noon on Election Day.

Attorney John Ryder, representing the Election Commission, said the legal standard for such mistakes is that they must be “palpable and gross.”

“There was a mistake here,” he said. “Clearly the Election Commission acknowledges the electronic poll book error and they acted very promptly to fix that and got the word out.”

Newman said the problems were broader than that single error.

“The tabulation system is in question. I think there is more law than the chancellor was considering. … We don’t have to prove fraud or illegality. That’s what the law says,” she said. “They may have taken some actions, but insufficient actions under best practice standards.”

Newman testified that she didn’t believe the problems were an intentional plan to throw the election results. Co-plaintiff Minerva Johnican and several others, however, said they believed there was an attempt to manipulate the results in which Republican candidates swept every countywide office on the ballot.

An appeal of Goldin’s ruling would not involve a full hearing before the court. Attorneys on both sides would file briefs and the court would act on whether or not to send the case back to Goldin.

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