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VOL. 127 | NO. 145 | Thursday, July 26, 2012

Election Commission Admits Ballot Problems

By Bill Dries

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Challenges to the conduct of the Aug. 2 election may have reached a peak Tuesday, July 24.

The Shelby County Election Commission admitted a “limited number” of voters in some precincts got early voting ballots that included the wrong district races.

Their work on their voter database to include the new boundaries for state legislative and congressional districts approved in Nashville in February began just four days before the end of the early voting period in advance of the Aug. 2 election day.

And sometime during the day Tuesday, City Attorney Herman Morris filed a lawsuit in Nashville Federal Court challenging state election officials on their decision not to honor photo library cards as a legal form of photo identification required by state law to vote.

The lawsuit alleges violations of the U.S. Constitution including the equal protection clause.

The city’s plaintiff is Daphne Turner-Golden, a Memphis voter who was issued one of the new library cards and attempted to cast her early vote at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church using the library card as identification.

Her complaint alleges “she was refused a ballot and was discouraged from casting a provisional ballot.”

Turner-Golden then went to the early voting site at Greater Lewis Street Baptist Church and was also “refused a ballot.”

“The election official did finally give her a provisional ballot, after first discouraging her from casting a provisional ballot,” the filing reads.

Morris had in January prepared a 33-page legal opinion in which he made the case that a city-issued photo library card, which the city began issuing in June, meets the standards in the state law passed in 2011 by the Tennessee Legislature.

Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins has said it does not.

Meanwhile, Shelby County Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers has now become the single spokesman for the office after Elections Administrator Richard Holden told several reporters last week that the commission would “get it right by election day.”

That was also about the time an Election Commission staffer walked out of the monthly commission meeting when commissioner George Monger pressed her for information on persistent complaints about problems during early voting.

“We wanted to have it right for this election. But we are bound and determined to have it right for November,” Meyers said Tuesday.

Meyers acknowledged Shelby County Commission candidate Steve Ross was correct in his analysis of the participating voter list and state maps, which reflected new districts lines for the Tennessee Legislature as well as U.S. congressional districts.

Ross estimated more than 1,000 early voters got ballots on touch screen machines that included district races they shouldn’t have been able to vote in and didn’t include district races they should have been able to vote in.

Meyers was hesitant to put a specific number on the problem just yet.

“I won’t know really until after the election,” he said. “If John Smith who lives on a street voted and we’ve now identified that it’s wrong and we’ve went back in and fixed that whole block – well, if nobody else votes on that block then we really haven’t done much. If everybody shows up and votes then it’s really a diminishing impact.”

The review of the participating voter list by the Election Commission staff with the new district lines continues. For now, Meyers said most of the identified problems with incorrect ballots to early voters have been found in state House districts 93 and 98.

“I think it would be inaccurate to say it was just 93 and 98,” Meyers said. “There are little pieces around the county. What we’ve tried to do in addressing that is to first look at the most contested races, which are the senate Democratic primary and the two Democratic house primaries. Then we’re also looking at the congressional boundaries. We feel that’s where we’re going to get the biggest bang for our effort in trying to correct it. Then they’ll be going through the whole county looking for other places.”

The problem affects what could be one of the closest races on the ballot, the District 93 Democratic primary in which incumbent Mike Kernell is facing incumbent G.A. Hardaway, whose district was combined with another incumbent’s district in the once a decade redistricting process.

Early voter turnout through Tuesday was 36,000 in Shelby County. Tuesday was the largest single-day turnout of the early voting period so far with 5,182 early ballots cast at 21 locations. The last day for early voting in advance of the Aug. 2 election day is Saturday, July 28.

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