Budget battle develops over Nashville early voting

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Davidson County Election Commission has outraged officials at the Nashville mayor’s office after the panel voted that it is prepared to cut the number of early voting sites in metro Nashville’s general election from 11 to one, unless more funding is acquired.

Media outlets report that the election commission voted 3-2 on Wednesday to operate only one early voting site — the state’s legal minimum — if the Metro Council approves Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed budget without changes.

Dean’s proposed operating budget is $868,000 lower than what the commission sought.

Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, a top Dean aide, blasted the decision.

“Does the election commission have enough money to run the elections this summer?” Riebeling said in a statement. “Yes, they do. But they’ve chosen to punish the voters of Davidson County in order to enhance their budget. They need to reverse their position and remember that their job is to make elections accessible to the voters. To threaten early voting sites is outrageous.”

Republican commission Chairman Ron Buchanan, who voted for the reductions, said the budget doesn’t cover funding for 12 full-time, year-round office positions the commission requested.

“The decision the commission had to make was, are we going to cut out funding for those 12 positions and jeopardize our ability to put on the elections in lieu of having early voting sites?” Buchanan told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1EYmgeh ). “Do we want to eliminate early voting? Absolutely not.”

The vote went along party lines, with Republican-appointed commissioners — Buchanan, Jim DeLanis and Jenifer Lawson — voting for the reduction pending greater funding. Democrats Tricia Herzfeld and A.J. Starling voted against it.

The council is expected to approve a final operating budget on June 16. The election commission meets next on June 11.

In last November’s election, about half of all votes cast in Nashville came in through early voting.

Further from The Tennessean:

Dean’s proposed budget would fund everything the election commission has asked for “as far as elections itself,” according to Dean’s administration, including all early voting sites. The mayor’s office also noted that the proposed $5.04 million 2015-16 budget for the elections office would be a 25.5 percent increase over the current fiscal year.

However, the mayor’s budget does not cover funding for 12 full-time, year-round office positions that the commission requested. That’s what prompted Wednesday’s vote, according to Republican commission chairman Ron Buchanan, who made the motion for the elimination of early voting satellite sites pending more funding.

Note: The state Democratic Party denounced the Davidson County Election Commission move. New release below.

News release from TNDP:
Nashville, Tenn. (June 5, 2015) — Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini released the following statement on the decision by Republicans on the Davidson County Election Commission to play politics with access to the ballot box.

“Republicans in Tennessee have been playing politics with the right to vote for a long time, so it’s not surprising that Republican Election Commissioners in Davidson County would hold access to early voting hostage to get what they want. Also not surprising is that the leader of the Davidson County Republican Delegation, Beth Harwell, has remained silent on this issue. We’ve seen her abdicate her responsibility to voters on other issues like Insure Tennessee, which makes her silence on this issue all the more deafening. We should all be working to increase access to the ballot box for eligible voters, not manipulating the system to make it harder. It’s shameful.”