By Travis Lollar, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A public interest group in Nashville is calling for an investigation into the Aug. 2 Davidson County primary after several prominent Democrats were given Republican ballots.
Tennessee Citizen Action Director Mary Mancini provided reporters on Monday with copies of an Aug. 9 letter from Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall to Davidson County Elections Administrator Albert Tieche.
“I have always been asked which primary I choose to vote in and this time I wasn’t provided that opportunity,” he wrote. “Additionally, I understand from you that the system was set to default to Republican if no one asked or the workers did not change it to vote in the Democratic primary.”
State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins said in an interview that the problem was not exactly a default ballot, but that the choice of a Republican ballot was highlighted on the computer screen poll workers used. Some poll workers must have pressed the highlighted selection without thinking, he said.
Hall did not immediately return a call on Monday afternoon requesting comment. A representative for Tieche said he was unavailable.
State Sen. Joe Haynes wrote in a blog post on the Tennessee Democratic Party’s website on Aug. 2 that he also was given a Republican ballot, although he noticed the error and demanded a new ballot.
“When I entered the voting booth the machine was set to vote in the Republican primary, even though I had just indicated, in writing and verbally, that I wanted to vote in the Democratic primary,” he wrote. “I called over a poll worker to correct the problem. I then learned that another person who was voting at the same time had the same problem.”
And Davidson County Juvenile Court Clerk David Smith said he also was given a Republican ballot and had to ask poll workers to change it.
“I opened it up and said, ‘Holy cow! There’s Bob Corker and I don’t see any Democratic names on here,'” he said.
Smith’s wife, Julianne, had a different problem. She was told she was no longer registered at the place where she has voted for the past 11 years. The registration software brought up a Judith Smith, of Antioch, instead. Julianne Smith was able to call someone she knew at the local Election Commission and correct the problem, but Tennessee Citizen Action’s Mancini said no one should have to do that to be able to vote.
“How many do not have that kind of wherewithal?” she said at a Monday news conference. “How many just give up and go home?”
Mancini said she heard from poll workers and also witnessed while observing the polls that several other people had the same problem as Julianne Smith, where the tablet computers being used to check in voters brought up someone else’s personal information.
Mancini said she believes both problems are due to the tablet computer system, known as electronic poll books. The electronic poll books were being tested at 60 of Nashville’s 160 precincts during the primary, but on Aug. 13, the Davidson County Election Commission voted to use them for all precincts in the general election.
State Elections Coordinator Goins has to approve that request.
Goins said he had not wanted any districts to implement electronic poll books this election.
“The first time you implement any new technology you always have problems,” he said, “and redistricting is a tough year anyway.”
Goins said Tieche persuaded him to allow the partial roll-out in August after complaining that the election commission would have to forfeit $400,000 if it were not spent by the end of the fiscal year. Goins said Tieche assured him that he had researched electronic poll books and that poll officials would be trained to use them.
“Elections administrators see all the benefits of new technology, but they don’t always see the problems,” Goins said.
Nonetheless, Goins has not yet decided against allowing the use of the electronic poll books in all Davidson County precincts in the general election. He is still trying to determine how widespread the problems were during the primary.
“This is not a closed book yet,” he said.