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VOL. 129 | NO. 152 | Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Democrats Continue to Talk of Election Problems

By Bill Dries

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Once all of the votes are counted in Thursday’s election, Shelby County Democratic Party leaders will probably challenge the results or at least point to what they consider to be irregularities.

The claim that documented problems in recent election years are not a thing of the past has been a steady political drumbeat among Democrats in recent weeks.

Democratic leaders are already preparing to challenge Thursday’s election results as they continue to insist there are voting irregularities that at least warrant the attention of election day monitoring.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Shelby County Commissioners voted Monday, Aug. 4, to ask the U.S. Justice Department for election monitors Thursday at the polls as well as attention from state election officials.

The resolution came after attorney and former County Commissioner Julian Bolton warned that there are already election irregularities.

Bolton complained that the print on ballot applications indicating whether a voter wants a Republican or Democratic primary ballot is too small. He also said some election workers are “intimidating” voters who produce their state-required identification by asking them if they still live at the address on the driver’s license.

“That’s holding up the whole line,” he said. “What kind of question is that? That’s intimidation.”

Bolton wanted the commission to request “cyber monitors” from federal officials – “highly trained people who know what to watch.”

The commission instead made a general call for election monitors from federal authorities, which have been a regular request and a regular feature of elections in Shelby County for decades.

Bolton has already filed a complaint with U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton asking federal authorities to investigate the vote count in the May Democratic primary for County Commission District 10. He is specifically claiming that voting machine tapes from three of four machines in the last precinct counted on election night were improperly read and that the votes on those three machines should be disqualified.

The claim was rejected by the Shelby County Election Commission and the local Democratic Party primary board.

Local Democratic partisans were split over the challenge by Democratic contender Martavius Jones, who lost the primary to Reginald Milton by 26 votes in the certified vote count.

Milton and others argued that Jones’ action would have disenfranchised on a technicality hundreds of people who voted on the three machines in question.

A lawsuit in Shelby County Chancery Court by Democratic contenders after Thursday’s election would be the latest of several trips to court over election results in the last eight years. None of the challenges by Democratic contenders have resulted in election results being overturned or voided.

Meanwhile, Chancery Court judges overturned the results of a nonpartisan school board race in 2012 won by Kevin Woods over Kenneth Whalum Jr. as well as the results of a Millington referendum on a sales tax hike to fund the city’s municipal school district. The Millington order was the result of an agreement by all sides. The order of a new election in the school board race was delayed pending an appeal.

Republicans up to Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett have been critical of the local Election Commission’s handling of balloting in recent elections as well. But those problems, like those in the Whalum-Woods case and the Millington case, involved the commission’s lack of sufficient effort to make sure voters in 2012 got the right races on their ballots to reflect new district lines drawn in 2011 in the once-a-decade redistricting process.

The city of Memphis also fought an unsuccessful court battle over the state’s voter ID law, including a bid to allow the use of city library cards as valid identification.

“Why is this just now coming to us?” Commissioner Chris Thomas asked Bolton Monday, saying that some might think it is “to scare people” or cast doubt on the election results before everyone has voted.

Thomas was careful to say he didn’t believe that was the motive.

“It’s just a pattern that is disturbing to the public,” Bolton said.

Meanwhile, Republican contenders on Thursday’s county general election ballot were touting their crossover ability in advance of election day.

“Folks, we are three days away from victory day,” Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said Monday at a rally in Bartlett. “Not only are we Republicans, but we are the best candidates. If you look at the past voting records in Shelby County, people cross over for good candidates. I take a great deal of pride in that.”

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