Jun 05 2012

Not Really Transparent

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, Shelby County

The Election Commission has a big job on its hands, but claims of transparency are overstated

The Machines Aren't the Only Things in Question

You can usually tell something about an organization by the way it deals with crisis. Organizations that are truly open will do everything in their power to show just how open they are by inviting stakeholders, the media, and others to see for themselves. Organizations that aren’t really open will make claims, dispute the story, and ultimately, do little to actually prove anything one way or the other. Sometimes they’ll even say the claims are moot because it has no bearing on the really important stuff…whatever that stuff is.

The questions, that began in 2008 after a CNN report about a touchscreen voting machine was hacked have only gotten deeper since the electronic polling book fiasco of August 2010. While no one alleged malicious intent in that particular instance (at least in court filings), the sanctity of the vote, and the voting process was questioned.

What no one seems to acknowledge is that it is the uncertainty of the process…the mystery surrounding the problems, that sustain these fears. Also, because of the highly “virtual” nature of voting in Shelby County…almost everything is electronic rather than a hard copy…there is the belief that these records are less safe than if they were printed.

This is something greater transparency would ultimately solve, but that transparency…true transparency, isn’t on the menu at the Election Commission.

The Mystery of Modern Elections

When you walk into the polling place on election day, a whole lot of work has already happened to make sure your ballot is correct. Think about it. We all live in a precinct. That precinct is represented by someone in the US House, State House, State Senate, County Commission, City Council, City School Board, and now Unified School Board. That’s a lot of different elections in one single precinct, not counting the countrywide and other assorted elections that occur every two or four years.

Every precinct (just about) is different than the one next to it, some more, some less. But as long as precincts aren’t split, things are as simple as they can be…x 236 precincts.

But that’s not how it worked out. The State Legislature chose to redistrict based on Census blocks rather than precincts. That means people living across the street from each other and many living in the same precinct have different representatives in one of those bodies I mentioned before.

Its challenging enough to ensure correct ballots when nearly every precinct is a little different, but when two people, voting at the same location, have the possibility of completely different ballots due to the district they reside in, it becomes even harder.

Electronic voting procedures have actually made this easier. Before, every one of these iterations of a ballot would have to be printed in some manner, meaning there was a real possibility of either a great deal of waste in areas that had few contested elections, or the converse, running out of ballots.

Supply shortages just aren’t a problem in the digital age. But we are trained, from an early age, to demand a record of things that are important in our lives. Voting is one of those. So when you don’t get even so much as a receipt when you vote, people get naturally suspicious. From there, any problem big or small will lead those affected by that problem to suspect foul play, even when it might not exist.

This is a challenge for the Election Commission, and its one of the reasons they must not only be more open than other civic institutions, but work harder to educate the public about its actions to ensure they retain the public trust.

Eroding Trust

That public trust is even more fragile than it was before. People have more access to information. They expect to have more information available. The Election Commission in Shelby County has taken some strides to be more open, but honestly, it hasn’t kept up with expectations.

The allegations made late last month that the voting histories of nearly 500 voters had been erased was met with little more than a “it doesn’t matter”. Here’s the actual quote as reported in the Commercial Appeal:

“All these people can vote, and they are still in the database,” Holden said by telephone Monday. “That proves they are still in the system and can still vote.”

This circular argument would be entertaining if it wasn’t so important. The issue isn’t whether or not they can vote, but what their lack of voting history means considering the very same Election Commission has placed 180,000 voters on inactive status due to non-participation.

In fact, looking at the May 1st Ward and Precinct report those voters have been on the inactive list since May 1, 2012. We’re just hearing about it one month later.

Why the delay? Why wasn’t this publicized in some way before the change was made? How hard is it to put out a press release?

See, if those 180,000 people were put on inactive status on or before May 1, and the Black Box voting post alleging history deletion came out on May 12, doesn’t it seem that those individuals might be classified as inactive, even if they’re not?

Its amazing that no one at the Election Commission seems to understand that because few truly understand the process, and there was no advance warning about potential change in classification, it opens them up to not only scrutiny, but suspicion.

Hard to See Through a Brick Wall

What’s more, the Election Commission hasn’t been particularly diligent about publishing their minutes. The last meeting to have minutes is from March.

Now, I know the Commission only meets about once a month, so a one month lag is somewhat understandable. But where’s April?

To add insult to injury, the agendas from each meeting basically tell you nothing. There’s no specific information at all. So if you’re not in the know, you’re out of luck.

This is no way to run an organization that is responsible for elections. Both the agendas, which are incomplete and less than informative and the lack of minutes…even proposed minutes, make it impossible for anyone who can’t make it to the meeting on the third Wednesday of every month at 4:30 to know anything about anything.

Add to that, the dearth of media coverage on the Commission…unless something has gone wrong, and public trust is further damaged.

It’s a Tough Job…

Sure, the folks at the Election Commission are usually very informative and helpful. I appreciate that.

It is rare that an email to administrator Holden goes unanswered. That’s a plus.

But a lot of these questions shouldn’t even have to be asked if the Election Commission were being open and up front about things.

The Precinct Locator for instance.

This is a nifty little tool that will tell you, not only what precinct you’re in, but also what districts you’re in and where to vote.

For whatever reason, it hasn’t been updated to reflect the new US House, State Senate and State House districts, which have been in place since January. Nor has it been updated to include the Unified School Board Districts, which is pretty important considering people are going to be voting for something for the very first time in an election this August.

While I’ll admit that finding anything about the configuration of the districts is darn near impossible, it was passed in January around the same time the state redistricting plans were passed. All that information should be available at the election commission website by now. For whatever reason, it isn’t.

As someone who has to shuffle and organize a lot of data, I get the scale of this task. I understand that a whole lot of man-hours are involved in doing this, and that unless the database is already set up for Census blocks, which it may not be, there’s no real way to automate the system. Then theres’ checking and double checking…maybe even triple checking to make sure everything is correct.

But its been four months. There’s been no public notice that there’s an issue. So that leaves people’s minds to wander and wonder.

And there’s an election in 60 days.

See, I’m not so upset that the work might not be done. I am concerned that the public doesn’t know. I am concerned that not only does the public not know about the delay in information, and that delay may make it harder for people to find out what they need to know about the upcoming election.

I’m concerned that the delay may make people even more suspicious of the process, whether that suspicion is justified or not.

I’m concerned because just being honest and up front is the surest way to ensure people understand and retain their trust, even though that may not be the first instinct of people who don’t want to be seen as failures or whatever. Again, it was a tough job that just got tougher due to a lot of issues.

Real Transparency, Now

But just because its a tough job, that doesn’t mean siloing yourself will make anything any better. If anything, it makes it worse.

See, even though Election Commissioners aren’t elected officials, ensuring the public trust is part of their job. In a County that is chock full of byzantine Commissions and Boards that act with only the bare minimum of public notice…often at places and times that are inaccessible to interested parties, and with little public disclosure after the fact, the soil is quite fertile for suspicion.

When you add moves by the State Legislature that many view as pure voter suppression and a great deal of suspicion, perhaps unfairly, gets heaped on the Commission tasked with executing that law.

With the technology available, much of it very inexpensive, its kind of unbelievable that the Election Commission and other Boards and Commissions don’t voluntarily archive their proceedings online. Even the Metro Charter Commission made recordings of their proceedings. The failure of the Election Commission to do so leads one to conclude that public disclosure just isn’t all that high on their list of things to do. That only fuels the suspicion.

While I understand that resources at the Election Commission are limited, that doesn’t mean that access to information has to be. Taking a little more time to be more diligent to build and restore public trust is something that all the City and County’s Boards and Commissions should take time to do, starting with the Election Commission and all the way down to the Beer Board (which is not as exciting as it sounds). Breaking down the silos of those in and out of the know should be at the top of the list for all of our public institutions. That it doesn’t seem to be just fuels the suspicion that much more.

I’m not going to go out on a limb and say that anything nefarious is going on at the Election Commission. 431K active voters is probably about right for a County that only has 682,902 people over the age of 18 (63% voter registration). Nationally, voter registration rates are around 70% so 611K (89.4%) was high to be sure. But the lack of advance disclosure regarding the voting rolls is unsettling.

What this requires is a proactive rather than reactive posture from the Election Commission, including the Commissioners themselves and the Commission’s staff in terms of public disclosure. That means future plans to administer the voting rolls, alter precinct lines, reduce the number of precincts, change voting location (early or precinct level) or anything else by the Commission should be disclosed well in advance of the meetings and in a way that the public can react accordingly.

That’s just not happening.

The hard truth for Administrator Holden and the Commissioners who oversee the Elections Commission is that just saying you’re transparent isn’t good enough. It doesn’t matter if other Counties in Tennessee are less transparent than we are…they’re also a lot smaller. The simple truth is, until proactive transparency becomes the norm questions will persist, and faith and trust in one of the most important institutions…voting, will continue to erode.

Jun 30 2011

Cognitive Dissonance and the Free ID Bill

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, State Politics

Stolen from Think Progress

I’ve had a little time to think about all the rules and regulations required to receive one of those “free” ID’s I wrote about yesterday and after looking at the regulations, I’m pretty sure they’re not free at all.

When you consider the dollars in time spent and fees to get the required documents together, plus who this bill disenfranchises, all of the sudden it becomes exceedingly clear what the real motivation was, and that this high bar may actually be unconstitutional.

So first, we’ll look at the actual requirements.

State law requires 4 kinds of ID verification if you want a state photo ID. Two verifying identity, two that verify residence. We’ll start with the identity part:

Primary ID Documents

Documents Needed Cost
U.S. photo driver license or photo ID card, License from another country

May also include photo learner permits.
U.S. Department of State Driver’s License also acceptable.

Cost: unknown.

These vary from state to state. Of course, if you already have a photo ID it’s a heck of a lot easier to prove you’re who you say you are.

Original or Certified Birth Certificate

Must be original or certified, have an official seal and be issued by an authorized government agency such as the Bureau of Vital Statistics or State Board of Health.

IMPORTANT: Puerto Rican birth certificates issued before July 1, 2010 will not be recognized as a form of primary or secondary identification beginning November 1, 2010.

The government of Puerto Rico has provided information for citizens to apply for new birth certificates.

Foreign birth certificates, not issued in English, must be translated and accompanied by a Certificate of Accurate Translation.

NOTE: Hospital issued certificates (mother’s copy) are not acceptable.

Cost: Depends

A basic birth certificate in Tennessee costs $8. However, to get one you also have certain ID requirements

On top of that, I’m not sure if you’ve tried to get a birth certificate lately, but it’s not exactly the speediest process. Cost in time spent could be as short as 30 min, and as long as 3 hours.

Military Identification
Active Duty, Retiree or Reservist military ID card (DD Form 2 or 2A)
Discharge papers (DD-214)
Military Dependent ID card (for spouse or children of Active Duty Military personnel)
Cost:minimal if you’ve served in the military.

Again, if you’ve already got one of these, your identity should be pretty easy to prove.

Military ID’s are acceptable for voting.

Valid, Unexpired United States Passport Cost:High

Also, if you already have one of these, you can use it to vote.

Valid, Unexpired Foreign Passport
Foreign passports must contain a Valid United States Visa or I-94 to be used as a primary proof of indentification.

Foreign passports, not issued in English, must be translated and accompanied by a Certificate of Accurate Translation. Passports are not acceptable if expired.

Cost: Who knows?

What’s more, this may work for an ID, but if you have a foreign passport, chances are you don’t qualify to vote, unless you have dual citizenship or something

United States Citizenship and Immigration Service Documentation

Certificate of Naturalization N-550, N-570, N-578
Certificate of Citizenship N-560, N-561, N-645
Employment Authorization card (I-766)
Northern Mariana Card
American Department of Indian Affairs Tribal Card
U.S. Citizen Identification Card (I-179, I-197)
Temporary Resident Identification Card (I-688)
Travel Documents Record of Arrival and Departure (I-94)
Border Crossing Identification (I-586)
Nonimmigrant Visa/Border Crossing Card (DSP-150)
U.S. Re-entry Permit (I-327)
Refugee I-94 Record of Arrival and Departure stamped “Refugee”
Refugee Travel Document (I-571)
Canadian Immigration Record and Visa or Record of Landing (IMM 100)
Canadian Department of Indian Affairs issued ID card.

Cost: Too many to quantify.

Some of these are free, some may not be. Honestly, many of them don’t apply to citizens, so they wouldn’t work for the purposes of voting anyway, just getting an ID

Marriage License/Certificate

Must include the applicant’s full name and date of birth. The certificate must be the original or certified copy that is registered AFTER the marriage; NOT just the “license”authorizing the union.

Cost:$15 in Tennessee.

Other states likely vary.

Federal Census Record

Must include the applicant’s full name and date of birth (age).

Cost: Free?

Honestly, I don’t even know what this is.

Applicant’s Own Child’s Birth Certificate

Must include the applicant’s (i.e parent’s) full name and date of birth not just “age” of parent at the time of the child’s birth.

Cost: See birth certificate above.

This is really for children seeking their first state issued ID. I don’t think my mom needs to come with me to the DMV to get an ID, but you never know, that could change.

Adoptive Decree

Must include the applicant’s full name and date of birth.

Cost: How much is an adoption?

Again, this seems to be geared toward children seeking their first state issued ID

Legal Change of Name (Divorce, etc.)

As recorded in court decree with judge’s original signature and/or official court seal.

NOTE: Copy of court document with copied seal/signature is not acceptable. Copy of court document with an original signature/seal that is affixed to copy is acceptable.

Cost: How much is a divorce?

Seriously, if nothing else there are copying fees involved if a person doesn’t have or has lost this document after a divorce, and of course, ID requirements to even get this information

Any confirmation of date of birth in court of law

As recorded in court document(s) with judge’s original signature and/or official court seal.

NOTE: Copy of court document with copied seal/signature is not acceptable. Copy of court document with an original signature/seal that is affixed to copy is acceptable.

Cost: Again there are copying costs and ID requirements associated with this.

In short, if you can get a copy of this, you likely already have the ID necessary to get a state issued photo ID

Any other documentary evidence which confirms to the satisfaction of the Department the true identity and date of birth of the applicant. Ahh, well that clears things up. Seems a bit arbitrary. It would be interesting to send in two people with identical non-conforming information and see if they both get the same result.

Maybe someone should test this

If you have one of these things you have completed step 1. On to step 2.

Secondary ID Documents

Documents Needed Cost
Computerized Check Stubs

Must include the applicant’s full name pre-printed on the stub.

I wonder how they determine what’s “computerized”. Also, I could knock one of these out in a heartbeat. Really, anyone with a computer and a little time could too.
Union Membership Cards
Must include the applicant’s full name preferably with photo and/or Social Security number.
Cost:Union Membership

Actually, after what they did this session to unions, this is kind of surprising

Work IDs

Preferably with photo and/or Social Security number.


If you work at a place that requires an ID this may help, but most don’t.

Financial Institution Documents

Computer printouts of bank statements, savings account statements, loan documents, etc.

Cost: Bank fees.

Believe it or not, not everyone has a bank account. This reality is evidenced by the huge influx of “Check Cashing” places all over the state.

Social Security Documents

Social Security Card (original only not metal or plastic replicas)
Printout or benefits statements, etc.
Social Security Check or Direct Deposit Verification of Social Security Check

Cost: Free if

If you have time to wait for SSA to issue a new card, or happen to have a statement handy.

Health Insurance Card

TennCare, Medicaid, Medicare, etc.
Health Insurance Card
Insurance Policies or Payment statements

Cost: Unknown

If you have Tenncare or something like that it may be free, or not. Honestly, this is not an area of expertise for me.

IRS/state tax form

W2 Forms, Property tax receipts, etc.

Cost: Free?

If you work you may have an old W-2 lying around. I wonder how old it can be before they no longer accept it.

Military Records

Assignment orders, selective service cards, Leave & Earnings Statement, etc.
United States or Foreign

Cost: Free

If you served in the military and they mess with you at the polling place or the ID office, shame on them.

School Records

Transcript of grades
Elementary Immunization or “Shot” Records
Diploma or G.E.D.

Cost: Varies

Most high schools will release your transcripts for a small copying and postage fee. Again, proof of identity is usually required for this, so if this is an option, you probably don’t need it in the first place

Vehicle Documents

Vehicle Registration or title
Bill of Sale or purchase contract

Cost: Depends

If you can buy a car, you also probably already have ID.

Ok, so after you’ve found 2 things that satisfy that requirement, you still have to prove your residence. Here’s that lovely list.

Two Documents from List A
Documents must show residence address used on application and your name or the name of your spouse. Proof of relationship will be required unless you are using the spouse’s Tennessee Driver License number and it has the same last name and address as the applicant.

If the applicant is a minor child or adult child still residing with parents, proof of relationship is also required with the name of the parent or legal guardian.


One Document from List A and One Document from List B

List A
• Current utility bill including landline telephone, electric, water, gas, cable, etc. (Wireless telephone bills cannot be accepted)
• Current bank statement (Internet bank statements are acceptable only if taken to the local bank, stamped and dated by teller as an active account. Checks and checkbook information are not acceptable)
• Current rental/Mortgage contract or receipt including deed of sale for property.
• Current employer verification of residence address or letter from employer as long as it is on company letterhead with original signature. If employer does not have letterhead then signature of employer must be notarized.
• Current paycheck/check stub, work ID or badge, if address is included.
• Current automobile, life or health insurance policy (Wallet Cards cannot be accepted)
• Current driver license/ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety to a parent, legal guardian or spouse of applicant
• Current Tennessee motor vehicle registration or title
• Current Tennessee voter registration
• Current Internal Revenue Service tax reporting W-2 form within last 12 months
• Receipt for personal property or real estate taxes paid within past last year
• In case of a student enrolled in public or private school in this state, student may provide a photo student ID and acceptable documentation from the Dean or Bursar Office that the student lives on campus.

List B

• Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) issued by the Internal Revenue Service
• Form I-94 issued to the applicant by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service
• Employment Authorization card (I-766) issued to the applicant by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service
• I-551 issued to the applicant by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service

If you made it through all that, could find the appropriate documents, and they were accepted by the folks at the ID place, you can get your free ID. Congratulations. Of course, if you didn’t have these documents handy, there’s no telling how much time and money you may have had to spend to actually get one of these “free ID’s”.

Finally, here’s a list that Bill Ketron, the author of both bills, passed along noting what is acceptable ID.