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VOL. 130 | NO. 209 | Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Shelby County Election Commission Changes Preparations Following Tabulation Issues

By Bill Dries

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The 2015 Memphis elections are in the books as the Shelby County Election Commission certified the results Friday, Oct. 28.

But the commission has resolved to test tabulation computer programming earlier, starting with the Nov. 19 city council runoff elections.

Several election commissioners also suggested last week an audit of election commission procedures as well as the need for better training of election officials at the precinct level.

Election commissioner Steve Stamson voted early and then asked an election official how many people had voted so far. Even after he identified himself as an election commissioner Stamson said, “The guy didn’t want to tell me.”

2015 Memphis Elections: Top Vote Getters

Memphis Mayor-elect Jim Strickland was by far the top vote getter of any of the 80 candidates on the Oct. 8 Memphis election ballot.

But the rest of the candidates receiving the highest number of votes, across all 15 races on the ballot, went to Memphis City Council and City Court clerk candidates. Incumbent Mayor A C Wharton showed up at ninth of the nine candidates who got more than 20,000 votes in the audited and certified election results, which were approved last week by the Shelby County Election Commission.

Here is the list of the nine candidates who received more than 20,000 votes:

Jim Strickland, Mayor, 41,936
Janis Fullilove, Super Dist. 8 Pos. 2, 33,902
Kemp Conrad, Super Dist. 9 Pos. 1, 33,041
Joe Brown, Super Dist. 8 Pos. 1, 29,981
Reid Hedgepeth, Super Dist. 9 Pos. 3, 27,821
Kay Robilio, City Court clerk, 25,099
Wanda Halbert, City Court clerk, 23,779
Philip Spinosa, Super Dist. 9 Pos. 2, 23,695
A C Wharton, Mayor, 22,303

The seven single-member city council district races drew from a smaller voter pool.

In those races, incumbent District 6 council member Edmund Ford Jr. was the only candidate to draw more than 10,000 votes, with a certified total of 10,276 votes, to win re-election.

“Finally I got the answer I was after,” Stamson said.

The election commission also got an explanation last week of the “glitch” that delayed the Oct. 8 vote count until after midnight.

Election Systems and Software of Omaha, Nebraska, provides the tabulation programming for Shelby County elections. The company sent an election database completed by its team to Memphis on Sept. 22 and gave the files to the election commission.

The election commission said the database would have to be updated, so ES&S did the update and provided a new database.

But with the change, the commission had two databases to manage on election night; some of the memory cards to be used had already been programmed from the first database.

That’s a common occurrence, according to ES&S senior vice president Kathy Rogers, who responded Oct. 22 to Election Commission requests for an explanation of what went wrong.

“Because managing two databases is not part of the usual workflow, there was a delay in uploading memory cards to the correct database on election night,” Rogers wrote.

She said the company’s technical support staff worked with the commission’s staff to “overcome the delay as expeditiously as possible and all results were eventually uploaded and released with complete accuracy.”

The complete unofficial returns on election night weren’t in until 12:30 the following morning, more than two hours after Memphis Mayor A C Wharton conceded the mayor’s race and challenger Jim Strickland declared victory.

Candidates relied on poll watchers to tally votes from key election day precincts based on vote printouts, which are posted at each precinct.

Some photographed the “tapes,” as they are known, and posted them on social media despite a prohibition on photographs at polling places.

Election commission chairman Robert Meyers said the state ban on such photographs has already had to be clarified to permit voters to pull up lists or endorsement ballots they’ve downloaded to their phones.

He said there could be a move to amend the state law to allow photographs of the precinct tapes since they do not reveal how an individual citizen has voted.

Election commissioner Norma Lester praised the postings for giving those beyond the campaign inner circles some idea of how the vote had gone.

“We’ve got some problems that we’ve got to work out,” she said. “That one is on us.”

Lester voted to certify the results but said she was troubled by differences in the unofficial election night tally and the certified results, which were the result of an audit by the accounting firms of Watkins Uiberall and Banks, Finley White and Co.

Lester said the different numbers didn’t change the outcome of the races. Whether vote discrepancies or irregularities are enough to change the outcome of a race is the legal standard in Tennessee for challenging election results in court.

The numbers in some races changed by more than 100 votes.

In the race for Memphis mayor Strickland’s winning total in the mayor’s race was 41,829 by the unofficial election night returns. But in the audited results it was 41,936.

Wharton’s election night total was 22,199 compared to 22,303 in the audited results.

The differences are more than the addition of provisional ballots that weren’t counted on election night. Strickland’s total in the audit included 27 provisional ballots. Wharton’s total included 12.

Other notable discrepancies were in the city council Super District 8 Position 3 race where incumbent Joe Brown’s winning vote total went from 29,817 on election night to 29,981 in the certified results.

Challenger George Thompson recorded 4,374 votes on election night and 4,407 in the certified results.

Fellow Super District Council member Janis Fullilove saw her winning total go from 33,697 to 33,902 in the certified results.

The race for the open council Super District 8 Position 3 race won by Martavius Jones went from a margin of 1,702 votes over Mickell Lowery to 1,675 in the certified results. Jones picked up 119 votes in the audit and Lowery picked up 146.

PROPERTY SALES 34 34 3,905
MORTGAGES 47 47 4,437
BUILDING PERMITS 190 190 9,458
BANKRUPTCIES 60 60 2,945