The greatest compliment

I’m coming up on my eight year anniversary at this blog, 10th of blogging overall if you count previous platforms now defunct, and the bad old days of literally coding every single thing in html (that really sucked). I really enjoy doing this, even though the pay is bad (none) and the benefits are even worse (none).

But one of the things that keeps me going are the discussions that pop up from time to time as a result of something I’ve written. There really is no greater compliment…whether the reaction is good or bad. Someone took the time to read what I wrote, and then, even more time to respond.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting all kinds of awesome people, on both sides of the aisle. That’s what I treasure most about blogging…the relationships that get built over time.

So it was with a great deal of pleasure that I received an open letter from Shelby County Election Commissioner Dee Nollner regarding this post on the close District 10 race (and more).

I’ve included the full text of the letter below my comments on the issues raised for you to peruse. I figure, if its good enough for all the Democratic email lists out there, its good enough to be searchable so it can be easily found in the future.

If you want to read it first, click here to skip to the bottom of the post. There’s a link down there to get you right back here.


Ms. Nollner:

Thank you for your email. I hope you’ll allow me the opportunity to respond to some of your points.

The issue at hand is whether or not I have my facts straight on a series of questions. I freely admit that as a human, I am prone to error. But I’m not sure the errors pointed out are the best ones to make your case.

Far be it for me to correct you…but I would like to respond to some of the statements you made.

For instance, I was aware that the Election Commission retains two attorneys (a Republican and a Democrat) for advice on election issues. However, there’s no question that Mr. Ryder holds more sway with the Commissioners. Mr. Ryder is very involved in election issues in his role as General Counsel for the RNC, not to mention his prior role as Special Redistricting Counsel to the GOP led TN General Assembly…a process that was held largely in secret.

It is for his body of work both with the Election Commission, and in other places, not his partisan bent or his ability as an attorney to hatch a legal opinion that I question some of his advice the Commission. It is curious that Mr. Ryders recommendations consistently meet the mere letter of the law rather than seek to ease the unease that surrounds the Election Commission…unease which you apparently dispute in your 5th point. I’ll get to that later.

Perhaps Mr. Ryder only believes it is his place to advise on legal matters. But I know Mr. Ryder to be an intelligent man, who is capable of expressing many perspectives on a single issue. Certainly additional insight could be offered if asked for.

Statements 2 & 3 – I agree that no challenge can be made until the election is certified. I never said one way or the other. I merely reported what transpired at a meeting…just like Jackson Baker, who was sitting right next to me.

Its not until later that I get into my opinion on the matter, which in no place did I say there could be a challenge before certification. I merely said the Election Commission should either 1) Publish a schedule of when documents would be available, or 2) Just make them available noting they are preliminary…just like the results in the Commercial Appeal.

Statement 4 – Having spent literally hundreds of hours dissecting the horribly organized SOVC reports for every election since 2006 (which, unquestionably is the worst) for analysis, I am quite aware that absentee ballots and election day ballots aren’t mixed. I never said they were. In fact, it would mess up most of what I wish to analyze if they were mixed. I only said that it is possible some absentee ballots received on election day had not been counted due to human error.

Statement 5 – This one is my favorite. If you’re unaware, or have perhaps forgotten about the past problems at the Election Commission, let me give you a quick refresher.

3000 voters received the wrong ballot in 2012
In that same election, two contests were overturned by a judge, here, and here.
Which led the newspaper of record to as why the Election Commission wasn’t better prepared, which seems like a fair question.
All of this led to the suspension of Elections Administrator Richard Holden, which some believe was too light a punishment.
This was followed by another critical audit of the Election Commission by the Shelby County Government, and eventually a no confidence vote led by a Republican County Commissioner…who you scolded for attacking another Republican…and questioned the basis (which is chronicled above) for the No Confidence vote. The City Council did it too.

In short, you would have to live on a completely different world to believe that there is no chronicle of failures at the Election Commission. Furthermore, the absence of problems in subsequent elections is not “praise worthy”, as I note in the post, because doing exactly what you’re supposed to do is what you’re supposed to do. Doing more than you’re supposed to do is praise-worthy, but that isn’t happening.

In fact, the Election Commission isn’t even doing the bare minimum. Your online meeting notices are behind, as are the available agendas, its interesting to note there is no posted agenda for tonight’s meeting. And the meeting audio link only lists audio from October of 2013.

Statement 7 – I have never once faulted poll workers for anything. I have no idea why you brought this up or them into it. I respect their service, and hope to one day be able to serve in that capacity as well.

I’m not sure what the point of this is, other than to use these innocents as human shields to deflect criticism…which is truly bad form.

Ms. Nollner, I’m happy to help distribute “facts” as you ask. I have, over the course of my time writing here in Memphis, always done so to the best of my ability. The “facts” you assert that I have misstated are not misstatements, except to your perspective. We can agree to disagree, but I will not back down on criticism when criticism is due.

Process is very important to me. Process is the means by which the public can observe what the various organs of government are doing. Violations, real or perceived of process will be met with extreme prejudice…regardless of who commits it.

Ask the State and Local Democratic parties if I have ever withheld criticism for their lack of transparent process. Ask my friends who serve in elective or appointed positions if I have ever held fire on the boards they serve on. I am very consistent on this point.

So when the information available is unnecessarily vague, difficult to navigate, or filled with civic sins of omission, I will speak up. If you don’t appreciate that, so be it. But I will not be deterred.

If you are truly interested in the “facts” getting out to the public, your organization, the Shelby County Election Commission will have to choose to do more than the bare minimum.

As it stands, the average citizen has no chance of knowing what in the world is going on at the Election Commission unless they have also looked at the TN Secretary of State’s election page or dared to delve into the TCA, which is more than unwieldy.

The information the Election Commission puts on its website is consistently out of date, and difficult to navigate.

This wasn’t always the case.

Once upon a time I even praised the Commission for updating its website. Unfortunately, those strides have not been maintained.

I’ve written more than one blueprint to correct some of the problems of information dissemination at the Election Commission. I even served on an election reform board with Commissioners Stamson and Lester…that included much of this blueprint in its final recommendations.

This is something I care deeply about…not a political football to be flung around when its convenient.

So let’s make a deal rather than fling invective at each other in a truly pointless fashion.

I know the Commission is short on staff, so let me take this opportunity to offer my services to make the Election Commission website more navigable, on a volunteer basis (20 hours to start).

I have 20 years of experience with web development, publishing platforms, and audio and video editing/streaming. I feel confident that I can come up with a plan and present it to the Commission for your approval, to make the site more navigable under the current content management structure and a strategy to help keep content up to date.

It seems clear that the Commission doesn’t have the resources to do this, so let me help. Maybe I’ll get some additional perspective on the challenges facing the Commission…which could work to the organization’s benefit.

If you really want me to be involved in distributing “facts”, let me help the Election Commission do that which you apparently are unable to do yourself.

I would be happy, and honored to serve.


Steve Ross

P.S. If you would like to contact me about this offer, please go here and fill out the form. That goes straight to my email. I don’t publish my email address, or anyone else’s for security purposes.

Full Text of the open letter from
Shelby County Election Commissioner Dee Nollner

Mr. Ross, your blog regarding the Jones-Milton election brings to mind that old saying โ€œa little knowledge can be a dangerous thingโ€. Misinformation harms everyone and deprives the public of facts they need to make an intelligent decision.
1. The SCEC has two attorneys, Monice Hagler (D) and John Ryder (R) they concurred regarding the TCA law applicable to this situation — TN State Party Primary Board is the authority for a primary challenge.
2. Clearly no challenge can be made until a decision has been made โ€“ two separate auditors (an R and a D) verify every item before submitting the audit for certification.
3. After they have audited the information it will be available for review.
4. Absentee ballots are not mixed with Election Day voting.
5. Well chronicled is defined by the chronicler!
6. At the conclusion of precinct voting, a tabulation is run for all the machines in that precinct – 3 identical copies are printed, one copy is posted on the wall of that precinct and the other two copies are packed separately and delivered to the SCEC that evening for auditing purposes.
7. Approx. 1,400 of your friends and neighbors answer the call to be election workers so the other 531,600 registered voters have the privilege of voting. Some of your friends and neighbors are more capable than others. Election workers are assisted by the 14-member staff. Our temp workers do a remarkable job and we are grateful they are willing to work the 13+hour Election Day. Understandably, some make mistakes but our system is set up to identify and address those errors in an orderly manner through audit.
8. I assure you that the SCEC goes by the law. Will you please help convey facts? I am happy to try to answer questions anytime.

Dee Nollner

Click here to return to my responses.

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