Machines Default to Republican Ballot in Davidson County
[Citizen Action Press Release here, 8/27/2012]
It has come to our attention that the electronic poll books used in the August 2 primary election in Davidson County, TN, defaulted to the Republican ballot.
This is unbelievable and outrageous. No piece of any equipment that’s part of any election should ever default to one party or another, EVER. The fact that the electronic poll books default to the majority party is an egregious oversight by the Davidson County Election Commission (DCEC).
The electronic poll books replace the paper poll books and paper on which the voter chooses their ballot and are comprised of three parts – a tablet-device, a scanner, and a mini-printer. When a voter enters their polling locations, the poll worker scans their voter registration card or drivers license and the voter’s voting record is pulled up on the tablet. At that point, the poll worker is supposed to ask if the voter wants a Republican, Democratic, or General Ballot. The poll worker then chooses the ballot for the voter. The poll worker then prints out a piece of paper with the designated ballot on it and gives it to the voter. The voter takes the paper to the machine operator and the machine operator places the cartridge with the designated ballot in the voting machine for the voter.
It first came to our attention that there were problems with the August primary and the Davidson County Election Commission on the morning of the election when we heard from Davidson County resident, Ginny Welsch, that she and her husband were given different ballots even though they live in the same house.
A few days after we heard about another Davidson County resident, Karen Lawrence, who said [pdf] that when she and her daughter went to vote, her daughter was not asked which ballot she wanted and was automatically given the Republican ballot to vote on:
“My daughter, Brittany Lawrence and I went to vote about 6:30 pm…at our designated voting location Ross Elementary School on McFerrin St in East Nashville. I had no problem with registration however my daughter did. She presented her voters registration card and state issued photo id to the lady at the registration desk. She took her info and imputed it in a computer that looked to be the size of a netbook. We were asked whether we were voting democrat or republican and she answered democrat. Once everything was entered there was a receipt that printed out that had to be signed. After it was signed, she instructed my daughter to give that receipt to the poll worker that was at the voter’s booth. She took it and went to the booth and she verified with my daughter that she was voting “Republican”. My daughter answered immediately “no” I told that lady Democrat. My daughter was told to go back to the registration table. The lady that made the error is the one she went back to. She had a difficult time correcting the error so the other poll worker said that she could fix it.”
In addition, Ms. Lawrence overheard a conversation between poll workers:
My concern was that I overheard the two women who worked the registration desk discussing the error made on my daughter’s first receipt. The older lady who made the error insisted that she “hit Democrat” and that was the 2nd time it had happened to her today. The younger poll worker who ultimately corrected the error responded saying that you have to make sure because “the screen automatically chooses Republican and you have to select Democrat.”
A few days after that, we were contacted by Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall who told us that he also was never asked which ballot he wanted and was automatically given, and then voted on, the Republican ballot. He found out about an hour later after speaking with Juvenile Court Clerk David Smith, who was also not asked which ballot he wanted, was automatically given a Republican ballot, but the mistake was caught by a poll worker who knew David was an elected Democrat.
When he realized his mistake, Sheriff Hall immediately phoned Davidson County Election Administrator Albert Tieche to report the error. A few days after that, Mr. Tieche and Sheriff Hall spoke again and Mr. Tieche suggested that Sheriff Hall write a letter documenting his experience.
During this same conversation, Mr. Tieche told Sheriff Hall that yes, the machines do indeed default to the Republican ballot if the poll worker does not choose a ballot.
In additional to the electronic poll books defaulting to the Republican ballot, and poll workers not being trained properly to ask necessary question “Which ballot do you want,” there are other systemic problems within the DCEC. This timeline illustrates [PDF] the other problems within the DCEC:
- Spring 2012: DCEC purchases Electronic Poll Books (EPBs) for all 160 voting precincts. Cost = $777,000
- Thursday, August 2: Primary Election. EPBs used in 60 precincts. Sheriff Hall votes on Republican ballot, realizes error & calls Mr. Tieche.
- Thursday, August 9: Mr. Tieche tells Sheriff Hall that the EPBs are set to default to Republican ballot. Sheriff Hall sends letter to Mr. Tieche & all 5 commissioners.
- Monday, August 13: DCEC meeting in which Mr. Tieche says he is “pleased with success” of EPBs during primary and recommends that EPBs be used in all 160 voting precincts in General Election. The commission votes to deploy EPBs in all voting precincts in General Election.
- Thursday, August 18: Secretary of State Tre Hargett & State Election Coordinator Mark Goins contact Sheriff Hall and request that Mr. Tieche explain by Thursday, August 23.
Today, Monday, August 27, Tennessee Citizen Action calls for the following:
- Immediately halt of the use of the EPBs in any and all elections.
- Complete & independent audit of the August 2 primary.
- Complete & independent audit of Davidson County Election Commission.
- The state must notify the TN Attorney General, District Attorney, and US Attorney ASAP to determine if this is a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
- Letter from Sheriff Daron Hall to Mr. Tieche, confirming that the EPBs do default to the Republican Ballot: http://www.tnca.org/pdf/daron-hall-tieche-letter.pdf
- Statements from other Davidson County voters who experienced problems: http://www.tnca.org/pdf/statements.pdf
- Timeline: http://www.tnca.org/pdf/timeline.pdf
- Press Release: http://www.tnca.org/pdf/tnca-epb-press-release.pdf