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VOL. 127 | NO. 162 | Monday, August 20, 2012

Co. Election Commission to Certify Aug. 2 Results

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Election Commissioners won’t completely close the books Monday, Aug. 20, on the troubled Aug. 2 elections.

But they will certify the elections results, which is the point when results in specific races could be challenged in Shelby County Chancery Court.

Overturning general election results in Tennessee requires the person contesting the results to not only prove election irregularities but prove there were enough irregularities to change the outcome of the race. Many Memphis voters complained that their ballots had the wrong district races for the Tennessee Legislature and others complained that their ballots were missing the municipal schools district referendums in the suburbs.

The closest race in the unofficial results was the Millington sales tax hike referendum. The proposed tax hike failed by three votes in the election night count.

The other close race was the 108-vote victory of Kevin Woods over Kenneth Whalum Jr. in the District 4 countywide school board race. Whalum has said he intends to contest the result.

“We were involved in a dynamic situation that ... has never occurred in the history of Tennessee.” 

– Richard Holden
Shelby County Elections administrator

The problems prompted Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett to request the state comptroller audit the election. Hargett also said the problems combined with a series of election gaffes in Shelby County over several years have eroded voter confidence in the process.

In a five-page letter to Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins, Shelby County Elections Administrator Richard Holden said the once-a-decade redistricting process was the culprit in the problems that became apparent during the early voting period.

“We were involved in a dynamic situation that to my knowledge has never occurred in the history of Tennessee,” Holden said.

He responded to specific questions from Goins about polling place problems that potentially affected thousands of Shelby County voters.

Holden specifically blamed the delay in the Shelby County Commission approving a redistricting plan for the delays by his staff in updating voter records and redrawing precinct lines to reflect new district lines.

“I believed we could not act until the County Commission enacted a redistricting plan,” Holden wrote.

The commission’s conversion from a five-district body with 13 members to 13 single-member districts was approved by a Chancery Court order in June after the commission repeatedly fell short of the nine votes needed to give final approval to the plan. The plan was due by state law at the end of 2011.

Holden and his staff began moving in June. Early voting started a month later. The job included manual entry of information for hundreds of thousands of addresses in Memphis.

The next scheduled County Commission elections aren’t until 2014. And redistricting of the Tennessee Legislature and U.S. Congress for the legislative races on the ballot was completed in February. But the commission district boundaries are crucial to the process, Holden wrote.

“All precincts are to be based on Senate district lines and County Commission district lines,” he wrote. “It is critical that precincts never be split by either of these two district lines.”

Compounding that problem, plans Holden and his staff had made early on for consolidating some precincts to make better use of elections officials were lost by state officials in Nashville, according to Holden.

“Precinct changes were lost at the state level resulting in consolidations and changes made in the county in February of 2010 not being on record at the state,” Holden wrote.

Some of the election problems involved voters in the suburban towns and cities who didn’t have the highly anticipated municipal schools district referendum questions on their ballots.

Addressing those specific problems in Collierville, Holden said the election resolutions from the Collierville Mayor and Board of Aldermen to put the questions on the ballot reached him in early May.

Holden acknowledged a lack of follow up.

“With the advantage of hindsight and subsequent input, I should have provided greater detail along with the city’s information to assure the job was completed properly,” Holden wrote. “A hard lesson was learned regarding better documentation.”

Meanwhile, races on the Nov. 6 ballot for six sets of suburban school boards took shape Thursday, Aug. 16, at the noon filing deadline for candidate qualifying petitions.

The candidates that made the deadline have until noon this Thursday to withdraw from the races if they wish.

But at the deadline, 14 of the 32 races were one-candidate contests where the person who filed effectively won the seat.

The filing deadline is another step along a political path that includes a federal court ruling to come on the Shelby County Commission’s challenge of the constitutionality of the state laws that set the ground rules for establishing the municipal school districts.

If the laws are upheld, the elections go forward. If the August referendum results are voided, they don’t.

PROPERTY SALES 57 280 1,209
MORTGAGES 55 244 916