Davidson County Election Administrator Albert Tieche survived to work another day after enduring sometimes testy questioning by his bosses, who took a scathing state review to heart but decided not to discipline him after a nearly five-hour meeting on Friday, according to The Tennessean. Tieche still could face a tough road if state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins, the author of the draft review, moves to decertify him once Goins presents his final report to state election commissioners next month. Through a spokesman, Goins declined to comment Friday night.
The five Davidson County election commissioners decided to respond to Goins’ review in the way that Metro attorneys advised — by acknowledging about a dozen errors and issues and succinctly saying how they’d try to avoid repeating them. They did not adopt Tieche’s much longer, more personal and sometimes feisty response to Goins, though the administrator and his own attorney, Art McClellan, said they might still submit it to the state.
Ron Buchanan, the election commission’s chairman and one of four new members, said any decisions about Tieche’s future would come later. Buchanan and other election commissioners dodged questions about their confidence in Tieche’s ability to conduct fair elections.
“There’s going to have to be some mending of fences and changes of procedures to restore voter confidence,” said Buchanan, a Republican.
“We’re going to move forward,” said A.J. Starling, a Democrat.
In a document longer than the review that prompted it, Tieche contested virtually every charge made by Goins. He wrote that the review “focuses on fault and blame rather than fostering improvement.”
“A casual review of the draft report would cause one to conclude that it is written to be personal in nature.”
For example, where Goins said the election commission’s use of faulty technology in some precincts in the August primary was “shocking” and that it could have influenced the outcomes of two House races, Tieche took offense at the use of that term and said there were just 106 voter history errors out of more than 12,000 votes cast with the technology.
Tieche also said that he took “great exception” to Goins’ claim that disciplinary actions against employees who talked to state investigators in late January had been backdated to December so they wouldn’t appear retaliatory. “That is a direct attack on my character,” he said.
A proposed ban on using cellphones and cameras at polling places, approved quickly and unanimously in the Senate, has stalled in the House amid suggestions it could block efforts to record wrongdoing.
Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, said she proposed HB921 at the urging of a county election administrator who believes cellphones and picture-taking devices are an inappropriate “distraction.” And state Election Coordinator Mark Goins said he has asked for a criminal investigation into reports of a person who sold his vote, then took a photo of the voting screen to prove how he voted and collect payment.
But members of the House Local Government Committee questioned Goins and Weaver at length on what they see as problems with the legislation.
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, said he has taken each of his five children with him into a voting booth and snapped a picture. That was “a neat thing for us,” he said, adding that “we’re getting into some muddy water here” with the bill.
Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, noted Shelby County voters last year were assigned to vote in the wrong legislative district. With a cellphone picture, he said, they could show the screen as assigned and establish that the ballot was incorrect.
Nearly four out of five provisional ballots cast in Tennessee in November were tossed out, according to statewide data. The Tennessean says this indicates that measures meant to ensure all legitimate votes were included resulted in only a few more being counted. Only 1,623, or 23 percent, of the 7,097 paper provisional ballots cast by people who experienced trouble at the polls during the Nov. 6 general election were ruled legitimate by election officials, figures compiled by state election officials show.
The numbers suggest that at least some voters were disenfranchised by steps Republicans took before the 2012 elections, opponents say.
“People ought not to have to fight to vote in a democratic society,” said George Barrett, a Nashville civil rights attorney who is challenging the state’s photo identification law.
Republicans pushed the law through the legislature in 2011 as part of a nationwide attempt to ensure voter integrity, but Barrett and others have called it an attempt to deter voting among traditionally Democratic constituencies.
Election officials say the figures also show that only two-tenths of 1 percent of the 2.4 million Tennesseans who cast ballots in November actually ran into problems when they went to vote, which they take as an indication that the voter ID law worked how it was supposed to.
“I’d like to get to the point where it’s even lower,” said Mark Goins, Tennessee’s coordinator of elections, “but I’ll take this number when you look at the full scale of things.”
State election officials plan to look at the histories of voters who participated in the Republican primary in Davidson County this month to help determine if voters were routinely given the GOP ballot by default, reports The Tennessean. Mark Goins, the state’s elections coordinator, said Tuesday that he wants to figure out if Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall’s experience was isolated or common. Advocacy group Tennessee Citizen Action announced publicly Monday what Goins had known for 11 days: that Hall, an elected Democrat, had voted in the Republican primary after poll officials failed to give him a choice.
Tennessee Citizen Action said Hall and others were victims of Davidson County’s new electronic poll books defaulting to the Republican primary if voters didn’t express a preference for one primary or the other on Aug. 2.
While Goins said “default” is actually the wrong term, he acknowledged that the Republican primary was listed first in the poll books, which state law required because the GOP is currently in power in the General Assembly. He said the Republican primary also was highlighted, and poll officials either failed to ask voters if they wanted to vote in a primary or, if they did ask, they failed to highlight the Democratic primary once voters expressed that preference. As a result, those voters received a Republican ballot.
Democrats in the state legislature and state election officials exchanged letters Tuesday over problems in the Aug. 2 election with election officials saying they were mostly confined to Shelby County.
Excerpt from the CA report (which also has a lot on the Shelby County back-and-forth): Tuesday’s developments were the latest in an ongoing story about issues in the Aug. 2 state primaries, county general elections and municipal referendums.
A letter to Hargett signed by 25 of the 34 Democrats in the House on Tuesday expressed “great concern” about problems ranging from voters being issued incorrect ballots to people who the letter says had proper identification not being allowed to vote.
The letter asked Hargett, whose department includes the state election coordinator’s office, how many people were not given a correct ballot and not allowed to vote in their “preferred primary or rightful district,” whether there is a uniform procedure at voting locations that voters are aware of and obtain the correct ballot, and how many were denied ballots because of ID issues.
Goins responded by saying the “problems in Shelby County have been well documented … (and) outside of Shelby County, we are aware of only a handful of isolated incidents, mostly involving poll worker error.”
Goins said 277 people statewide cast provisional ballots because they lacked proper photo ID, and 115 of them were counted in the election because voters returned within two business days of election day with proper IDs. The other 162 were not counted.
— Update Note: Fitzhugh and Turner didn’t think much of Goins response to their first letter. See below.
Tennessee Green Party candidates for public office will have to wait more than three weeks before their names will appear on the state’s elections website, says The Tennessean. State officials do not plan to publish the official list of candidates for the November election until Aug. 30, state elections director Mark Goins said Tuesday.
That’s when Goins’ office is required by state law to finalize and announce results from Tennessee’s recent primary elections, he said.
“Their names will be there unless the court tells us otherwise,” Goins said.
A federal judge earlier this year ruled that members of third parties have a right to appear on the ballot, identified by their party, as opposed to being included in the listing of independent candidates.
The state has appealed that decision, and a federal appeals court has yet to rule on the issue.
“There’s a decent chance that we’ll know by Aug. 30,” Goins said.
If not, the state plans to include a reference to the pending appeal, noting that Green Party candidates could be removed from the ballot if the original ruling is overturned.
In recent days, candidates from the Green Party have been raising concerns that state officials were dragging their feet on updating the lists of candidates on the elections website.
As of Tuesday, only Republican, Democratic and independent candidates were named.
“This has really hurt our candidates,” said John Miglietta, who is running as a Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 5th District. Candidates from the party have been missing out on candidate forums and being mentioned in lists of individuals who will be on the ballot this fall, he said.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee election officials called Friday for closer scrutiny of a contest in the state’s largest county after reports that more than 5 percent of voters have gotten the wrong ballot during early voting.
Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins said he has asked the state comptroller’s office to do a performance audit of the vote in Shelby County. Goins described the situation as “a mess,” and a letter from Goins and Secretary of State Tre Hargett noted that the current issues are part of a string of troubling election problems dating back years.
The state stepped in on the next to last day of early voting after voting database expert Joe Weinberg estimated more than 2,300 voters cast early choices on the wrong ballot. The mistakes are largely the result of redistricting and affect state legislative races.
Weinberg told The Commercial Appeal that he has been helping identify the problems for the Shelby County Election Commission, which reports 445,747 registered voters in the county.
Goins said he wants to get the matter corrected by next Thursday’s primary and expects to have an “error free” general election in November.
Voters who already cast incorrect early ballots will not be allowed to vote again, and officials are urging voters who think their ballot is wrong to tell a poll worker before casting their ballots.
Richard Holden, the county’s Administrator of Elections, told The Associated Press on Friday that he could not confirm Weinberg’s numbers, and he did not provide his own estimate as to how many ballots have been incorrect. Holden said the commission was working to make sure that no more mistakes were made.
“I haven’t been looking in the rear view mirror,” Holden said. “I have been looking through the windshield.”
In their letter to the comptroller requesting the audit, Hargett and Goins said election problems in Shelby County have stretched back about a decade. In 2010, an election official loaded the wrong information into an electronic toll book, indicating that thousands of voters had cast ballots when they hadn’t.
Candidates in 2006 sued the county election commission, alleging that irregularities affected the outcome of a county general election. In 2005, a special election to fill a vacant seat was voided because ballots were cast by ineligible felons and dead people.
“While each example is in and of itself unacceptable, together they indicate a troubling pattern of errors that cannot go unnoticed,” the letter said. “These errors have eroded public confidence in the Shelby County Election Commission Administration to the point where every action taken by them is considered suspect.”
Many of the improper ballots are in uncontested races, but more than 300 of them have showed up in the District 93 contest involving current state representatives Mike Kernell and G.A. Hardaway.
Both candidates say they continue to hear from voters about problems.
“We’ve got one goofy scenario after another and there is just no excuse,” Hardaway told the newspaper.
Through Wednesday, 41,595 votes had been cast.
Six suburban cities have referendums on whether to leave the county school system and create their own schools. Those elections are being contested in court as a violation of the state constitution and the votes could be thrown out later.
State Election Coordinator Mark Goins tells the Chattanooga TFP that early voting totals are likely to be higher this summer than in 2008, when about 206,000 people voted early statewide.
According to the state Division of Elections website, the statewide total on Friday was 121,304 (that included 81,854 Republican primary votes and 33,918 Democratic primary votes). Those totals don’t include some counties that didn’t get their Friday vote reported to the state and had their last update on Thursday.
“You’re going to see those numbers jump substantially in the last three or four days of early voting,” Goins told the newspaper (Note: His name is misspelled in the story).
Tennessee Democrats say their analysis of Secretary of State records shows more than 11,000 voters across the state have parts or even all of their voting histories “disappear” between December and last month, reports Andy Sher. Democrats call the entire issue “troubling” and warn it could lead to some voters getting unfairly purged from voting lists. State Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester earlier this week fired off a letter to State Election Coordinator Mark Goins, a Republican, asking for a “full and detailed explanation” as well as an “independent review … to ensure there are not more missing voting records or systemic flaws” in the state’s voter files.
“As you are undoubtedly aware, an inactive voting history can lead to a voter being purged from the rolls,” Forrester warned. “Failure to maintain adequate voting records can have the pernicious consequence of disenfranchising” legitimate voters.
Tennessee law says election officials can purge voters who haven’t voted in the past two federal elections if they do not respond later to an address confirmation notice. Some lost their 2008 and 2010 history. Tennessee has some 3.9 million registered voters.
Davidson County’s election administrator was formally reprimanded by state officials Monday for failing to open the polls on a Saturday during the early voting period for the March 6 presidential primary, reports The Tennessean. But the State Election Commission decided not to pursue further disciplinary action against Albert Tieche after he acknowledged his mistake without a fight and said he had not intended to break state law. The commission could have gone so far as to decertify Tieche as an election administrator if it had voted to proceed with a “show cause” hearing, but that wasn’t likely to happen until February, after the state gets through this year’s primary and general elections.
None of Tennessee’s 94 other counties closed their polls on Feb. 18, the first Saturday of the early voting period, State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said. That fell on the Presidents Day holiday weekend, and Tieche said he and his staff thought they didn’t have to open then, based on historical precedents.
But Tieche’s decision ignored the schedule his own bosses on the Davidson County Election Commission had agreed to in October, Goins said.