Category Archives: election commission

Activists seek exit poll of all voters in a Nashville precinct

A group of activists is planning to survey every voter from an East Nashville precinct in an attempt to verify that their votes were properly recorded by electronic voting machines, reports the Nashville Scene.

Questions about the precinct at Cora Howe Elementary initially stemmed from a poll workers’ concerns that the precinct’s results on the Amendment One referendum earlier this month were flawed. Now members of the group, called Gathering to Save our Democracy, say they witnessed problems with the machines themselves.

Bernie Ellis, a veteran squeaky wheel when it comes to electronic voting machines among other things, says he voted “No” on Amendment One, but noticed that his vote had changed to “Yes” when he went back to review his ballot. He says he also spoke to another voter who made a selection on every race and amendment, only to go back to review the ballot before submitting it and find that his votes on all four amendments had been erased.

So Ellis and the group are planning to attempt something they say has never been done in the country before — a 100 percent exit poll of the 876 people who voted at the precinct.

The group will first need official data from the election that the Davidson County Election Commission said Monday will not be available until next month. When it is, Ellis says Eastwood Christian Church has offered its sanctuary for a full week for the group to perform its exit poll study. Voters will be asked to bring all the identification they used to vote on election day, and while their actual votes will remain anonymous, the group will be able to use poll books from election day to confirm that each individual truly voted. Then they will fill out a survey that asks how they voted for governor, U.S. Senate, and Amendment 1. They will also be asked whether they experienced any problems at the polls.

Court of Appeals tosses challenge to Shelby school board chairman’s election

The state Court of Appeals has upheld the result of Kevin Woods’ 2012 election to a Shelby County School Board seat, overturning a Memphis judge who had ordered a new election because hundreds of voters who did not live in the district had cast ballots, reports the Commercial Appeal.

In August 2013, former Chancery Court Judge Kenny Armstrong ruled that irregularities in the election required a special election.

In 2012, Woods and Rev. Kenneth Whalum ran against each other in District 4. Woods won by 106 votes, but hundreds of voters received the wrong ballot, including 556 who were allowed to vote in the race even though they no longer lived in the district.
The Shelby County Election Commission determined that 93 of the (wrong district) votes were for Woods and 277 were for Whalum. It could not sort out the remaining 186 ballots.

“The result of the District 4 school board election was neither affected nor rendered incurably uncertain as a result of the 186 allegedly illegal votes,” according to an appellate opinion signed by J. Steven Stafford. The court issued its ruling late Tuesday.

“Even taking into account these allegedly illegal votes, Mr. Woods remains the clear victor.”

Woods was seated by the school board in September 2012. When the vote was certified in October, the election commission noted that hundreds of ballots had been given to voters outside District 4 while many voters inside the district did not have the Whalum-Woods race on their ballots.

Whalum filed a suit. In August 2013, Armstrong ruled the election must be rerun, saying there “will always be legitimate questions about the actual winner.”

Woods appealed the decision. Weeks later, the school board elected him chairman.

“Lots of folks helped me with the election. Knowing that the cloud is now lifted over our election results is great news for all our volunteers,” he said in a text message.

Note: The full text of the majority decision is HERE. A separate opinion by Judge Frank Clement concurs in the result, but disagrees with part of the reasoning.

TV Judge Joe Brown, others challenge Shelby County election results

Nine candidates who lost races in the Aug. 7 Shelby County general election and state/federal primary filed a lawsuit this week against the Shelby County Election Commission alleging “fraud, willful, deliberate and continuous dereliction of duty,” reports the Commercial Appeal.

The suit, filed in Chancery Court Tuesday, alleges that the SCEC, “specifically the three Republican members of the five (5) member commission, prevented and denied them and the voters of Shelby County Tennessee a free and unimpaired exercise of their franchise.”

The complaint concludes with the plaintiffs’ request for relief, including a re-count, a setting aside of results or “a declaration declaring them to have won the election.”

Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers called the lawsuit “completely frivolous.”

Asked if he wanted to rebut any specific claims or leave his comments there, he said, “I think I just want to leave it there. The whole thing is just frivolous.”

The eight-page complaint is signed by Joe Brown, who lost the district attorney general race to Amy Weirich by some 44,000 votes.

Mozella Ross, who lost the race for Criminal Court judge Division 5, is also listed as a submitter of the petition.

AP’s 5 things to know about TN election (that you probably already knew)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Five things to know about the Nov. 4 general election and other ballot issues in Tennessee:

Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is strongly favored to win re-election in November. In the August primary, Alexander fended off a tea party challenge by state Rep. Joe Carr. Carr had high-profile endorsements from tea party-allied figures, but he could not overcome Alexander’s fundraising advantage and 40 years in Tennessee politics. The 74-year-old Alexander, who has served two terms as the state’s governor and two terms in the Senate, will face Democratic candidate and attorney Gordon Ball in the general election.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who faced only nominal primary opposition, will likely coast to a second term. His Democratic opponent is a 72-year-old hunter named Charlie Brown, who did manage to win the Democratic primary for governor by more than 35,000 votes. Following his victory, Brown told The Tennessean newspaper: “I’m a redneck hillbilly, and I want to put this state first. I want to put Tennessee up front.”

After years of debate, state lawmakers passed a law this year that allows wine to be sold by grocery and convenience stores starting in July 2016 if citizens vote to approve the change. Only communities that currently allow package stores or liquor by the drink are eligible to hold votes as long as at least 10 percent of voters in the community sign petitions. Currently in Tennessee, wine can be sold only in liquor stores.

A proposed constitutional amendment would give lawmakers more power to regulate abortion in the state. Abortion rights supporters strongly oppose the measure, saying it would allow the Legislature to put in place new laws regulating abortion even in cases of rape, incest or danger to the health of the mother.

Another proposed constitutional amendment would give the Legislature the power to approve or reject the governor’s appointments to appeals courts. The proposal would keep the replace-retain elections for appeals judges and Supreme Court justices to serve a full eight-year term.

New state policy bans crossover voting by election commissioners; validity questioned

The public censure of Maury County Election Commissioner Lynn Nelson of Columbia has led to a new state policy subjecting county election commission members to removal if they cross over to vote in the opposite party’s primary, reports the Columbia Daily Herald.

The Republican-controlled State Election Commission censured Nelson — vice president of the Maury County Democratic Party — last week for voting in the Republican primary in May. The panel then approved the new rule as submitted by State Election Coordinator Mark Goins’ office.

“While serving on the county election commission a county election commission member should not vote in a primary of the opposite party which they represent. If a county election commissioner plans on doing so they should resign prior to voting or they will be subject to removal by the State Election Commission,” the new policy says.A copy of the new policy has been sent to election commissions in all 95 Tennessee counties, Goins said.

He said Nelson apologized to the state commission during the meeting and said he had cast a ballot in the primary to “vote against someone.

”Nelson admitted voting the primary but insists he was unaware of the law.

“I shouldn’t have voted in it, probably,” Nelson said Monday. “At the time I voted, I was not aware the law was even in existence. “He said he voted because there was some “issues” he felt strongly about.

The Maury County Election Commission voted 3-2 in May to censure Nelson after being challenged by Bill Anderson, an election commissioner and a member of the Maury County Republican Party.

…The May primary was the first-ever local Republican party in Maury County and caused some confusion about who is eligible to cast a ballot. State statute limits voting in a primary to a bona fide member of the sponsoring party or a voter who declares allegiance to that political party.

Nelson said he appeared before the state election commission last week with his attorney.

He said the panel’s newest member — Donna Rowland Barrett, a Republican and former state representative — initially made a motion to remove Nelson from office but the attempt died lacking a second.The commission then voted unanimously to censure him, Nelson said.

“I think that they were fair,” he said. “I’m satisfied with this.”

Note: A member of the Hamilton County Election Commission thinks the new policy may violate both the federal and state constitutions, according to the Chattanooga TFP.

Chattanooga attorney Jerry Summers, a Democratic member on the Hamilton County Election Commission.

Summers said Saturday in an interview that he doesn’t believe the state’s order passes muster under federal guarantees of free speech and assembly under the U.S. Constitution.

“I think there’s a serious First Amendment issue involved here,” Summers said Saturday.

In fact, added Summers, who prior to his appointment served as the local election commission’s counsel, he thinks the new rule may also violate the Tennessee Constitution.

In Summers’ view, both federal and state Constitutions “would take precedence if this position of infringing upon the rights of people to vote” and thus would “supersede the policy of the State Election Commission.”

Summers said he’s already voted in the Democratic Party primary and he doesn’t have much interest voting in a GOP primary generally. The State Election Commission appoints county election commissioners upon recommendation by local state legislators who nominate members of their own party.

On Gordan Ball, Lamer Alexander and the Shelby County election ballot

The Shelby County election ballot for Aug. 7, as made public on sample ballot forms, has Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gordon Ball’s first name spelled ‘Gordan.’ The following is a statement from his campaign today:

“In preparation and distribution of absentee ballots in Shelby County, my name was misspelled. Our team is respectfully requesting that the Shelby County Election Commission rectify this mistake and issue a public statement,” Democratic Candidate Gordon Ball said this morning. “Our names are important. How would Sen. Lamar Alexander feel if his name had been misspelled by one letter. if Lamer Alexander was on the ballot, the senator probably wouldn’t like this anymore than I do.”

UPDATE: From the Commercial Appeal:
In a statement later in the day, the Election Commission said the misspelling went out on 366 absentee ballots and is correct on the commission’s sample ballot and on voting machines.

“We recognized the error and it was our office that brought it to Mr. Ball’s attention. At that time, we assured him that the correction had been made. We did not realize he desired reaffirmation that the situation had been rectified,” the election commission statement says.

The election commission said it is mailing letters to voters who received the ballots to tell them votes for Ball will be counted regardless of spelling.

Rutherford County election administrator fired

The Rutherford County Election Commission fired its full-time administrator Nicole Lester Monday based on accusations she didn’t work at the office enough, according to the Daily News Journal.

Chairman Ransom Jones called for the unanimous 5-0 vote to dismiss Lester after telling his fellow election commissioners the complaints about her came from the Rutherford County Human Resources Department and County Mayor Ernest Burgess.

“They are frequent, and they are blatant,” Jones said. “They clearly justify dismissal.”

Lester and several supporters who included her father, Hiram Lester, and her husband, Joe Russell, disputed the accusations before the vote in front of an election commission audience of more than 40 people.

“I know in my heart and my soul that I have done a good job for the voters of Rutherford County,” said Nicole Lester, who is one of three to have served as election administrator within the past four years for a job that at this time pays an annual salary of $92,640.

Prior to Nicole Lester taking the job May 2011, former Election Commission Chairman Tom Walker called for Hooper Penuel to be fired from the position August 2010 because the election commission failed to provide a state-required early voting on a Saturday in July of that year.

Walker ended up replacing Penuel by December 2010 and then resigned a few months later after learning that fellow Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly were recommending the State Election Commission appoint new GOP leadership to the local election commission.

TBI checks for voter fraud in signatures for Chattanooga Councilman’s recall election

An investigation is underway to determine whether voter fraud was committed during a failed attempt to recall Chattanooga City Councilman Chris Anderson, according to the Times-Free Press.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is scrutinizing about 300 signatures that were tossed out by the Hamilton County Election Commission to learn whether the signatures on the petition were forged.

TBI spokesman Josh DeVine said investigators were requested by the local district attorney’s office.

The recall attempt fell about 400 signatures short of the required 1,600 needed to force a public referendum on Anderson. The freshman councilman’s opponents turned in more than 3,000 signatures, but more than half were thrown out after the election commission determined that the signer lived outside the district or because the signature appeared fake.

Charlie Wysong, who helped organize the recall effort, said there was no intent to act illegally.

“There wasn’t anyone going out to try to fraudulently recall a councilman,” Wysong said. “It was simply a matter of people making mistakes.”

Election Administrator Kerry Steelman said in early May that the suspicious signatures didn’t match the voters’ registration cards and on some petition sheets the names were signed in alphabetical order, raising a red flag.

Election officials were careful to point out that the Election Commission member Jerry Summers, one of two Democrats on the five-member board, was the one who reported the suspected fraud to the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office.

The commission took no action, said Election Commission Chairman Mike Walden, but the board will cooperate with the investigation.

Former Rep. Donna Barrett named to State Election Commission (replacing former Rep. Tom DuBois)

News release from Secretary of State’s office:
Former State Rep. Donna Barrett has been appointed to fill a vacancy on the Tennessee State Election Commission. Commissioner Barrett, principal of The Barrett Group, is a recognized leader in cost control strategies. Prior to her founding The Barrett Group, she spent 10 years serving as a Tennessee state representative, representing Rutherford County.

The commission is responsible for appointing local election commissioners in all of Tennessee’s 95 counties, then monitoring the activities and performance of those individual county election commissions.

“I’m pleased Commissioner Barrett is willing to complete this term,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “I know she will continue her public service with distinction by working to ensure elections in this state are fair and impartial.”

“It is an honor to serve in this capacity for the State of Tennessee,” Commissioner Barrett said.

Barrett will join the seven-member election commission, which is administratively attached to the department of state. She is only the second woman in history to serve on the commission.

The state election commission works very closely with the state coordinator of elections to ensure elections are conducted in a uniform fashion.

Mark Goins, the state’s coordinator of elections, added: “I have known Donna Barrett for a long time. She will make a great state election commissioner.”

She is filling a vacancy created when former Commissioner Tom DuBois qualified to serve as a circuit court judge in the 22nd Judicial District.

Barrett’s experience at the state level will be an added benefit to the commission. Barrett was first elected as a state representative in November 2000. Prior to her retirement in November 2010, she served on several legislative committees; however, her most notable position was a member of the Fiscal Review Committee – where she earned the reputation of being one of the state fiscal “watchdogs.” During her years of service, Barrett generated more than $30 million in cost savings by identifying over-appropriations, bloated contracts and misuse of funds.

Note: Barrett was known as Rep. Donna Rowland, a Republican representing part of Rutherford County, for much of her legislative term, prior to marrying Ronnie Barrett, founder of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing in Murfreesboro.

Six people voted twice in Davidson County primary; election worker fired

An election worker has been dismissed after six people voted twice in Davidson County last week and an election commissioner says she could refuse to approve the results unless questions are answered about reports of wider irregularities, according to The Tennessean.

Staffers blame a clerical error for letting half a dozen people vote twice, once during early voting and again on Election Day. But Commissioner Tricia Herzfeld says that mistake — and potentially others — are serious enough that she may not agree to certify the results at the commission’s next meeting on May 19.

In a letter to election administrator Kent Wall sent Monday, Herzfeld also criticized fellow commissioners and staff for not talking about potential irregularities, including the possibility that some people were not allowed to vote.

“The public has a right to be informed of these discoveries and the candidates, in particular, deserve to know if anything that occurred on Election Day could impact their races,” Herzfeld wrote.

Officials have verified one irregularity: that electronic poll books were not updated by an outside vendor, Omaha-based Election Systems & Software LLC, to show that thousands of Davidson County voters had cast ballots during the early voting period. Election workers learned of the mistake on Election Day and informed state officials late that night.

Mark Goins, the state’s election administrator, said he has recommended referring the six voters to Davidson County prosecutors.

See also the Nashville Scene, which includes the text of Herzfeld’s letter, and comments from Wall:
Wall downplayed the significance of the snafu, pointing to procedures on the back-end of the election that meant officials knew about the issue the next day.

“The procedures were in place that this should not have happened on the front end, but because of human error, their side and ours, it did,” he says. “But we caught it.”

However, had the amount of double-votes been in the thousands — as they could have been — knowing about it after the fact would not have prevented the integrity of the entire election from being in question.

This is not the first time that Election Systems & Software (ES&S) has been at the center of voting problems in Nashville. In 2012, some voters intending to vote in Democratic primaries were given Republican ballots in error. ES&S machines have also been related to problems in Memphis, and other states as well. But Wall says it doesn’t cause him to question whether to continue contracting with the company.

“Any time you have a human action taken, there’s always a potential in anything you’re doing that something could go wrong here,” Wall says. “But ES&S has been supplying equipment and software around the United States for a long, long time, and they’re a big supplier of equipment in the state of Tennessee and they’re approved by the state of Tennessee to continue to use ES&S.”

Asked why he and other election officials apparently intended not to make the election-day issue public, Wall suggested their wasn’t much to share.

“There’s no story,” he says. “We know what happened, we know how it happened, we know the magnitude of it. I don’t know what we would’ve done differently in that circumstance.”