Jul 18 2012

More Details Election Commission Mistakes…Misstatements – #ShelbyVote

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, Shelby County

Division of Units for US Census and Redistricting

Yesterday morning I noted the issues facing some voters in municipalities seeking to vote in school referenda. I also linked to several news reports detailing issues faced by voters.

Last night, the Commercial Appeal reported that the issues had been resolved and all was well. Unfortunately, that is not exactly the case.

A voter living in HD93 reported last night that he was given the wrong ballot when he went in to vote. After a long meeting this morning, the Election Commission has confirmed that they placed his Census Block in the incorrect district. According to the voter, they have corrected the issue and as of this morning he was able to vote in the correct district.

The problem facing this voter, and apparently others revolves around a couple issues:

  • The TN State House chose to redistrict based on Census Block rather than voting precinct. This creates a greater level of complexity and thus a higher potential for error, however, according to this TN State Comptroller’s report, it is allowable. (p. 32)
  • Because the Election Commission waited to begin entering State data until mid-June (per the last meeting held on June 13), the shortened time frame opened up additional error potential. The rationale for this delay was publicly stated as waiting on the County Commission to finish redistricting. I’ll come back to this point later.
  • All state redistricting information was finalized and published by February 14th of this year according to the Tennessee General Assembly’s website (State House, State Senate, US Congress). This means, to date there have been 5 months for the Election Commission to work on this information to ensure the data is correct.

    In addition, the newly formed Unified School Board districts (1-7) were approved by the County Commission on 1/23/12, giving the local Election Commission ample time to make updates to their system.

    Missed Deadlines, Lots of Excuses

    The County Commission did miss their 1/1/12 redistricting deadline, which led to a lawsuit that was resolved on 6/14/12 by Chancellor Arnold Goldin even though it wasn’t reported until 2 days later. This effectively removed the stated barrier to the Election Commission fulfilling its duty to update voter information to reflect the new districts.

    However,despite repeated claims by both Elections Commissioners and the Administrator of elections, I have been able to find no law, nor have they been able to provide me with any legal basis for the claim that County Commission redistricting had to be complete before the voter file could be updated. Here’s what we know:

  • State Senate Districts Cannot split a Precinct
  • County Commission Districts Cannot split a Precinct, except in certain instances
  • State House Districts CAN split a Precinct so long as they’re based on Census Blocks (Source p. 31-32)
  • There is no guidance on School Boards or other divisions of government in this document. Further, there is nothing that says one kind of district cannot split another kind of district. The only prohibition is the precincts themselves.

    For instance, the district I’m currently running in, County Commission District 1 contains portions of 3 old Senate districts, 28, 30, and 31 and portions of EVERY SINGLE NEW SENATE DISTRICT in Shelby Co. I have found no prohibition in state law that states that PCT A and PCT B right next to it can’t be in the same Senate Districts but different Commission districts…or the other way around.

    Indeed, it would be impossible for this to happen as our current County Commission districts are larger than a State Senate district by some 30,000 people or more.

    Furthermore, the deadline for County Commission redistricting, as I state before, was 1/1/12, but the Senate districts weren’t approved and published until 2/14/12. How could these two sets of districts conform to each other in any way under these circumstances? It would be up to the State Senate to conform to the County Commission…something they’re not likely to do.

    Just to confirm this, I called the Tennessee State Comptroller’s Office of Local Government. State law says NOTHING about commission districts and Senate districts conforming…only that each precinct in total must not be split in those two classes of districts. This means the Election Commission’s claim that County Redistricting slowed down the process of updating the voter file is not only bogus, but a gross misstatement of the truth, as Holt got Richard Holden to confirm here.

    So, the only way the lack of new County Commission districts impacts the Election Commission’s ability to update the voter file is if their primary focus is precinct consolidation.

    Shortening the List

    Obviously, without the benefit of County Commission redistricting information, precinct consolidation cannot happen. However, it does not preclude the Election Commission from updating other information in anticipation of said new County Commission districts, especially when a County General election, a slew of municipal referenda, and a State Primary election is bearing down on you.

    Precinct Consolidation may be something that needs to happen. It may help us have better, less complicated elections. If may lower the cost of those elections. But it cannot be primary focus of the Election Commission. That should be the business of holding error free elections. Sure errors may occur, but the likelihood is much higher when the focus is placed on something other than the elections themselves…like precinct consolidation.

    Check Your Ballot Carefully

    There have been reports of other people having similar issues to the ones reported by Holt in other districts. Based on the most recent Participating Voter List available…which only covers the 579 voters from the first two days of voting, as many as 31 voters may have been given the wrong ballot unknowingly. That’s a 5.4% margin of error…something even the shadiest pollster wouldn’t accept.

    You shouldn’t either. Before you go to the polls do a couple of things.

    1. Check you State House and Senate districts on a map here.
    2. Check to see if the information matches at the Shelby County Election Commission website.

    If it does, you should be good to go.

    If not, when you go vote, be prepared to follow the following steps to ensure your vote is counted correctly:

    1. They should be prepared before going to the polling place. Know who they will vote for and know their precinct number. Their precinct number is on their voter registration card and on the sheet of paper (ballot application) they sign at the polls.
    2. The poll worker is supposed to walk them to a voting machine, the voter inserts the voting card; on the upper left hand side of the screen their
    precinct number will appear. The worker compares those numbers with the voter and then steps away so the voter can vote privately.
    3. If those numbers do not match a new card is programmed and the same confirming procedure is followed.
    4. If the numbers match but the voter realizes at some point during the voting process that something is missing from his ballot he should STOP immediately
    and summons the officer.
    5. NEVER EVER push that final “cast ballot” button until after carefully checking the summary page. The summary page shows the choices you have made; if any are incorrect they can be corrected at that point. Some voters have a light touch and the machine fails to acknowledge their choice,if so, they should touch the choice until it correctly appears on the screen. Once that confirmation-Cast-Ballot-Button is pushed, nothing can be done about that ballot. It has been cast.
    HOWEVER – if the voter notices a problem, before he pushes that final button, and waits until the officer comes to him the officer can void that ballot, and resolve the problem
    right then and there.

    via Election Commissioner Dee Nollner

    If the poll worker doesn’t want to hear it, make sure your ballot was cancelled then call (901) 222-1200 and lodge a formal complaint.

    One more thing…

    Richard Holden’s admission as reported by Holt that they weren’t legally precluded to updating the voter file by County Commission redistricting is something new. The line on that misstatement has finally broken and been confirmed by another agency.

    This was an administrative decision, not a legal requirement. Media agencies should call Election Officials out if they revert to this line, as they have provided no legal basis for the claim.