A federal judge this week will consider naming a “special master” to get to the bottom of Tennessee Democrats’ assertions that voter data files received from state election officials contained partially or even totally blank voting histories for an estimated 11,000 voters. Andy Sher reports: Attorney George Barrett, who is representing Democrats in a federal lawsuit against Republican Secretary of State Tré Hargett and state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins, said U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Sharp heard the case Friday in Cookeville, Tenn.
The judge asked both sides to agree on how to deal with issues raised in court testimony, Barrett said.
Barrett, who is representing the Tennessee Democratic Party and former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., said both sides agreed Friday night on a consent order, which they intend to submit to Sharp this week.
…”We agreed to ask the court to enter a consent order, first of all for the 11,000 voters with some kind of missing history between December 2011 and May 2012,” Barrett said. “We’ve asked the court to appoint a special master to investigate those facts and see what happened, if anything.”
…Democrats said they noticed the missing or incomplete voter histories while comparing voter files from December and last month, both obtained from the state. They said 527 Hamilton County voters were among those with missing information.
Democrats are not alleging the state deliberately wiped files, saying it could have been a mistake because Republicans, Democrats and independent voters were affected. But they still say an independent eye is needed.
The state Democratic Party’s communications director, Brandon Puttbrese, testified Friday and confirmed Barrett’s account of the hearing.
The state also has agreed not to purge any more voter rolls until after the November election, Puttbrese and Barrett said.
The issue is important, Barrett said, because an inactive voting history can lead to a voter’s being purged from the rolls.
A spring cleaning of Shelby County’s voter rolls, based on identifying names of people who had not cast ballots in any federal election since 2006, has resulted in voting rolls that as recently as March showed 611,937 voters now listing just 431,054 names, reports Zack McMillan. The commission says there is a simple explanation for how some 180,000 names vanished from the publicly available voting rolls.
The most substantial change involved moving 151,826 people who have not voted in any of the two most recent federal election cycles to “inactive” status. Those voters remain eligible to vote, but since they have not voted in any federal election over a four-year stretch, they are no longer considered “active” voters, and the commission, under the control of county Republicans since 2010, has decided to include only the “active” voters on its registered voting statistics.
If an “inactive” voter happens to show up to vote in any federal election over the next four years, that voter moves back to active status. The election commission also notifies voters by mail that their status has changed and supplies a form and business-reply envelope the voter can send back to stay on “active” status.
But if a voter does not show up to vote in any federal election over an eight-year span and fails to otherwise contact the commission, that voter is purged from the rolls.
A smaller number of people, about 32,781, were affected by the more consequential process of being purged. Another 5,000 were purged based on other factors, including felony conviction, notification of address change or notice of death.
Add up those numbers — or subtract them, as it were — and the result, according to commission chairman Robert Meyers, “increases the accuracy of our voter registration rolls.”
It may also work to increase the credibility of the county’s voters. Take that 2008 presidential election. Presuming the voting rolls then should have been closer to the current 431,054 than the nearly 600,000 listed at the time, the voting turnout jumps to close to 90 percent.
State Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis asked the Tennessee secretary of state on Wednesday to conduct a “formal investigation” into allegations that the voting histories of 488 Shelby County registered voters were deleted from Election Commission records, reports the Commercial Appeal. Critics are concerned that such deletions could pave the way for the purging of those voters’ names from the official rolls. The Senate Democratic leader’s letter follows a similar request by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., for investigations by U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins into the allegations originally made by voting rights activist Bev Harris, whose Black Box Voting website monitors irregularities with voters nationwide. (Note: Previous post HERE) …Hargett, in a media statement in response to Kyle’s letter, said that his office “began our investigation as soon as we heard about this matter. We want to assure Leader Kyle and everyone involved that we take these matters very seriously. We keep the database of official voters at the state and no voter histories have been deleted in Shelby County.”
“We have checked the list of those who believed their data had been deleted, and all have (a voting) history. No one on the list was scheduled to be purged because of inactivity. If they had been scheduled to be purged, they would have received confirmation notices,” Hargett said.
Hargett’s spokesman, Blake Fontenay, said the state is “still trying to figure out how people got data that appeared to show the histories as erased.”
A blogger’s report on the voting history of 488 Shelby County voters being erased — a move that could lead to purging their names from voter registration lists — has led to a local election commission investigation and a call for investigations at the state and federal level, reports Jackson Baker. Allegations from (blogger Bev) Harris last week that hundreds of Shelby County voters — almost all black Democrats — have had their voting history erased have put Election Commission officials on the defensive and prompted a demand from 9th District congressman Steve Cohen Sunday that the U.S. Department of Justice and Tennessee State Election Coordinator Mark Goins look into her charges.
“The ballot must remain free and open to all,” said Cohen, who had made similar requests for DOJ scrutiny following a glitch in the August 2010 countywide election that caused several hundred voters to be turned away, at least temporarily, after an erroneous early-voting list had been fed into the county’s electronic voting log.
Subsequently, a slate of losing Democratic candidates in that election filed suit to force new elections, and Harris was one of several consultants called in to aid the litigants. She helped prepare a comprehensive list of alleged irregularities but was not recognized as a proper authority by Chancellor Arnold Goldin, nor did attorneys for the plaintiffs avail themselves of her most sensational accusations, some of which imputed illegal intentions to the Election Commission. Goldin would ultimately dismiss the suit summarily.
Harris, whose Black Box Voting blog attempts to monitor election irregularities nationwide, has remained in touch with Shelby County Democrats who are appealing that decision and has stepped-up her attentions to local voting issues of late.
A month or so ago, she contacted members of the Shelby County Election Commission and the news media with a list of largely recycled allegations concerning the 2010 elections. These attracted little note, but she got everybody’s attention with her new charges last week that the prior voting history of 488 Shelby Countians, whom she listed by name, had been inexplicably erased on an Election Commission “all details” list of registered voters of a sort that is issued monthly. Almost all of the voters on the list were African American Democrats, and the absence of a voting history could make such voters legal fodder for a purge list, Harris said. Note: Harris blog HERE.
News release from Secretary of State’s office:
As part of an ongoing effort to inform voters about a new law that will require them to show valid photo identification at the polls, election officials in all 95 Tennessee counties will be hosting outreach programs Nov. 1. State election officials believe this is the first time in Tennessee history voter outreach programs have been conducted in all 95 counties on the same day.
The formats may vary from county to county, but most are hosting town hall meetings where citizens can ask questions about the new law.
A list with the time and location of each county’s event can be viewed at http://tnsos.net/Elections/voterid/PresentationsList.php.
The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires people to show a valid state or federal government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Examples of acceptable forms of ID include driver licenses, U.S. passports, Department of Safety photo ID cards, U.S. military photo IDs and state or federal government photo ID cards. College student IDs are not acceptable.
There are a number of safeguards in the law to ensure eligible voters are not disenfranchised. The photo ID requirement does not apply to:
•People who vote absentee by mail
•People who vote in licensed nursing homes or assisted living facilities
•People who are hospitalized
•People who have religious objections to being photographed
•People who are indigent and cannot obtain photo IDs without paying fees
Voters who forget to bring photo identification to the polls may cast provisional ballots and return to their local election offices with proof of their identities within two business days after elections.
“I commend our election commissions and administrators of elections for working hard to spread the word about this new law,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever been done before. This outreach campaign is massive and certain to reach a tremendous number of voters.”
For more information about the new law, contact the state Division of Elections at 1-877-850-4959 or your local election commission office.
News release from Tennessee Citizen Action:
Nashville, Tenn. (October 24, 2011) — A new poll issued by the MTSU Survey Group reveals that most Tennesseans are aware of new voter ID law, but many confused about the details. Tennessee Citizen Action released the following statement:
“We’re not surprised that many Tennesseans are confused about the details of the new photo ID to vote law because it’s in the details that the devil lives. The requirements necessary for Tennesseans to comply with the law are restrictive, excessive, and extremely confusing.
For instance, the law states that the ID must be a “Valid government-issued photo ID” but we’re being told we can use an expired drivers license. We’re not sure when “valid” and “expired” started to mean the same thing. We’re also being told that certain government-issued photo IDs, such as those issued by state universities and colleges, cannot be used, while others, such as gun permits, can.
Adding to the confusion is the very specific and excessive ID requirements needed for Tennesseans to obtain the necessary ID. You need proof of U.S. Citizenship, a primary proof of identity with full name and date of birth (like an original copy of a birth certificate) AND a secondary proof of identity AND a proof of name change if different from name on primary ID AND TWO proofs of Tennessee residency.
Basically, this law is taking away a person’s right to vote, telling them they have to get a government-issued photo ID to get it back, and confusing the hell out of them in the process. This is NOT what democracy looks like.”
Tennessee Citizen Action works in the public interest as Tennessee’s premier consumer rights organization focused on justice for all. As part of the No Barriers to the Ballot Box coalition, TNCA is working to repeal the photo ID to vote law.
News release from Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – Senate Democratic Chairman Lowe Finney and House Democratic Chairman Mike Turner announced Wednesday that they have filed legislation to repeal a government-issued voter photo identification mandate that threatens to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans.
“We have a duty as lawmakers to protect the ballot box, but we also have a duty to protect Tennessee citizens’ ability to vote,” Finney said. “This new requirement will put hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans in danger of losing their right to vote. It’s our job to defend that right.”
The legislation, filed Wednesday, would repeal a recently passed law that requires every voter to show government-issued photo identification at the polls in order to vote. According to the Department of Safety, 675,000 Tennesseans of voting age do not have the photo identification now necessary to vote.
Obtaining a valid, government-issued photo ID card has proven difficult, if not impossible, for many Tennesseans, including rural voters in 53 counties who have no driver services center in their county; hardworking Tennesseans who can’t spend hours away from their jobs to stand in line for a new card; and senior citizens who don’t have the necessary documents to satisfy the stiff requirements needed to obtain a photo ID.
The repeal legislation was filed the day after sponsors of the government-issued photo ID requirement held a press call regarding the new law. Media members asked lawmakers why they specifically banned college photo ID cards – even those issued by state-run colleges and universities.
The bill sponsors claimed that college ID fraud was rampant, even as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported that fraud was down 24 percent on Tennessee college campuses last year. There were 26 impersonation offenses (falsely representing one’s identity or position for gain), accounting for 0.4 percent of all campus-related crime across the state.
“I’m not satisfied with the reasons given for this mandate,” Turner said. “We should be working to reduce barriers to the ballot box for citizens. This law puts up walls, and we intend to tear them down.”
Earlier this month, Dorothy Cooper, a 96-year-old Chattanooga woman who has voted for decades, was turned away from obtaining a photo ID despite producing multiple documents proving her identity.
Those documents included a photo ID card issued by the Chattanooga Police Department to residents of her public housing complex. Under the new law, Cooper’s public housing photo ID does not qualify as sufficient identification.
“What happened to Dorothy Cooper could have happened to any of our senior citizens. That’s shameful and unacceptable,” said State Representative JoAnne Favors of Chattanooga. “This law is a solution in search of problems, and it’s already creating them.”
When a 96-year-old Chattanooga resident went to a driver’s license station to get a free ID for voting, carrying an envelope full of documents, a clerk denied her request, reports the Chattanooga TFP. That morning (Dorothy) Cooper slipped a rent receipt, a copy of her lease, her voter registration card and her birth certificate into a Manila envelope. Typewritten on the birth certificate was her maiden name, Dorothy Alexander.
“But I didn’t have my marriage certificate,” Cooper said Tuesday afternoon, and that was the reason the clerk said she was denied a free voter ID at the Cherokee Boulevard Driver Service Center.
“I don’t know what difference it makes,” Cooper said.
Cooper visited the state driver service center with Charline Kilpatrick, who has been working with residents to get free photo IDs. After the clerk denied Cooper’s request, Kilpatrick called a state worker, explained what happened and asked if Cooper needed to return with a copy of the marriage certificate.
“The lady laughed,” Kilpatrick said. “She said she’s never heard of all that.”
Tennessee Department of Safety spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said in a Tuesday email that Cooper’s situation, though unique, could have been handled differently.
“It is department policy that in order to get a photo ID, a citizen must provide documentation that links their name to the documentation that links their name to the document they are using as primary proof of identity,” Qualls said. “In this case, since Ms. Cooper’s birth certificate (her primary proof of identity) and voter registration card were two different names, the examiner was unable to provide the free ID.”
Despite that, Qualls said, “the examiner should have taken extra steps to determine alternative forms of documentation for Ms. Cooper.”
(Note: This is a Sunday column, written for the News Sentinel.)
The photo ID flap has gone off on an interesting tangent in Mississippi, while in Tennessee Democrats are denouncing the idea as a voter suppression plot and Republicans are striving to justify it as a defense against election thieves.
Mississippi is putting the issue to a statewide vote this November. An Associated Press report says Republican strategists think this will boost conservative turnout, helping their guys win big in the gubernatorial race and otherwise.
But bear in mind that no photo ID will be required for the election and, if they’re right about the rampant voter fraud afoot, the thieves could carry the day. A guess is that they’re right about arousing conservative rage with fraud fears but wrong about any rampant voter fraud.
In Tennessee, where the issue has already been decided by the Republican Legislature, the GOP has no fear of vote thievery to boost turnout. Indeed, some of the claims of concern about voter fraud are, well, at least debatable.
Last week, for example, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron held a news conference to declare he had found a convicted felon to be voting in Rutherford County — and a declared Democrat at that. This proves the law is needed, he said.
But it doesn’t. The fellow in question, it seems, was convicted of robbing a convenience store in 1984 and was still on probation when he registered to vote in 1992, though he apparently checked “yes” on the form where it asks if you have ever been convicted of a felony.
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers have squabbled for at least 15 years about whether to require voters to show a driver’s license or other form of identification at the polls. They haven’t enacted a voter ID law, but the issue never disappears and the passion surrounding it never seems to diminish.
Now, it’s moving to the Nov. 8 state ballot through the initiative process. Voters in the general election will decide whether to put a voter ID requirement in the Mississippi constitution.
If the initiative passes, it will be examined by the U.S. Justice Department, which could block a voter ID requirement or let it take effect. Because of Mississippi’s history of racial discrimination, the Justice Department reviews any proposed election changes to ensure that they don’t adversely affect minority voters.
Supporters say requiring voters to show ID will help ensure the integrity of elections by preventing people from masquerading as others to cast ballots.
Opponents say voter ID amounts to a form of a poll tax, and that it could intimidate older black voters who were once prevented from exercising their constitutional rights under Jim Crow.