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VOL. 125 | NO. 209 | Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Election Fracas Nearing End

By Bill Dries

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There is still a report from the state election coordinator to come on the Aug. 5 Shelby County elections, but this week’s findings from District Attorney General Bill Gibbons on the problems at the polls across the county that day confirm the controversy and criticism cuts across party lines.

Gibbons cited an independent investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation requested by the Shelby County Election Commission in saying his office would not pursue criminal charges. But he didn’t let the election commission off the hook.

The focus of the investigation and report is the loading of an early voter list from the May elections into electronic poll books used on the Aug. 5 election day. The error resulted in possibly thousands of county voters being initially denied the right to vote because according to the polls books they had already voted early.

Gibbons was among those voters initially turned away.

His report concludes it was “an honest mistake” but also that “a lack of training” in procedures already established was the culprit.

He points to an audit report election officials could have reviewed in the space of 15 minutes that would have easily pointed out problems in the numbers of early voters that might have led to pre-election day recognition of the mistake.

Ross Underwood, who wrote the software used to convert the early voter data, concluded the failure to look at the reports “was simply the result of a lack of proper training” that has since been remedied.

“It is obvious that although electronic systems may have substantial benefits, they also expose the (election commission) to the risk of system-wide errors caused by a simple, momentary lapse,” Gibbons wrote. “With this in mind, it is incumbent upon all responsible officials to make the extraordinary efforts demanded by the citizenry to avoid such lapses.”

Gibbons said of 89 affidavits or statements from citizens complaining of problems, only two were from voters who claimed they had been turned away from their polling place on Election Day.

“From a civil rights standpoint, it is not acceptable for the voting rights of any voters to be negatively affected by errors made by the election officials charged with running a fair and accurate election,” Gibbons writes in his report. “However, there are no obviously discernible demographic or voting history patterns to be found within the limited number of voters potentially affected by the EPB (electronic poll book) error.”

Gibbons noted the election commission acted before noon on Election Day to correct the problem and offered provisional ballots and failsafe affidavits to more than 2,000 of more than 5,000 voters potentially affected.

But in his conclusion, Gibbons said the report “is not intended to give shelter to those responsible for elections in Shelby County.”

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