The Status of Ballot Box Access in Tennessee
The fact that Tennessee uses unverifiable electronic voting machines is enough to question the status of unencumbered access to the ballot box in Tennessee (Is every vote counted? How can we be sure when there is nothing tangible to recount?), but the August 5th primary election adds new unanswered questions to the mix.
Last week, the Tennessean asked me to write about elections for their Op-ed page. In a piece they titled, “Voters demand accuracy that TVCA offered,” I argue the merits of the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act,” paper ballots, and the ability to do an accurate recount of all votes in light of recent election day problems throughout the state:
There is one thing that unites all Tennesseans no matter where they fall on the ideological spectrum. Republican, Democrat, conservative, or liberal: We all agree that we deserve fair and accurate elections.
The proof of this assertion lies in the near-unanimous passage of the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act (TVCA), a law that requires three steps to ensure fair and accurate elections: 1) The use of paper ballots (counted by optical scan machines) to record votes, 2) mandatory random audits to make sure the OpScans are counting correctly, and 3) the paper ballot is the “ballot of record” for recounts and audits.
In other words, the TVCA will give Tennesseans faith in the results of our elections by giving us tangible and thorough tools to oversee, recount and verify the results. Also important, especially in these tough economic times, are studies from multiple states showing that paper ballot elections would save our state money.
Unfortunately, implementation of the TVCA was delayed until 2012 by a law that also gutted the mandatory audit procedures. Now, instead of a system that would ensure the integrity of our elections, we are stuck voting on paperless electronic touch-screen voting machines.
So why would the TVCA have given us a better electoral system than the machines currently in use?
There have been numerous and well-documented real-world instances in which the machines did not work properly, including three during the recent Aug. 5 primary.
On primary day in Maury County, one electronic voting machine precinct update caused vote totals to decrease, with some candidates losing as many as 50 votes. On the same day in Hawkins County, the computerized personal ballot reader (PEB) that counts the votes counted all votes twice in five precincts.
Other problems likely undetected
In Shelby County, numerous incidences of “vote flipping” were recorded, where voters voted for one candidate by touching the appropriate candidate’s name on the touch-screen, only to have another candidate’s name appear.
And these were only the problems that were caught.
In addition to rampant software problems, many credible studies of these machines by computer scientists have found them to be vulnerable to computer virus attacks and manipulation.
In fact, when asked what kind of machine they would use to run a trustworthy election, most computer scientists say, “paper.”
Also critical to any election is the ability to conduct a meaningful recount. A viable recount process is the only mechanism to ensure that every vote is counted accurately and, as we have seen recently in the Davidson County District 21 Senate race, is critical to determining the winner in a close election.
Microvote, the company that provides electronic voting machines to 45 Tennessee counties, once described their products’ recount feature as “simple.” So simple, in fact, that the total during a recount never changes. Just press a button and get the same total again and again — despite any machine-driven vote counting disasters like the ones in Maury, Hardin and Shelby counties.
Considering the malfunctions in the past, “simple” is not something to be proud of.
All Tennesseans know we deserve fair and accurate elections. The Tennessee Voter Confidence would have given them to us. Instead, we are forced to vote on machines that make us sure of only one thing: that we are unsure about the accuracy of our elections.
In addition, the Tennessean’s editorial staff also understands the problems.
In his view, State Election Coordinator Mark Goins blames the recent election day problems on “human error” and focuses on the work they are doing to clean up the voter roles.
My question to Mr. Goins is, why can’t the State Election Commission do both – clean up the rolls and ensure that every vote is counted fair and accurately? Surely the two are not mutually exclusive?