Our thanks to Drew Staniewski for this review of where we stand in Tennessee re: free, fair and verifiable elections.
Our group (Gathering To Save OUR Democracy) worked hard to pass the TVCA in time for it to be implemented in 2008, before the last election. There was enough time (and enough remaining HAVA money) to accomplish that. However, as a concession to some, TVCA implementation was delayed until 2010. When Republicans not only won control of our legislature for the first time in 140+ years but also won every open seat in our legislature, they announced that one of their three top legislative priorities was to repeal the TVCA.
It is quite instructive that Tennessee became the ONLY state in 2008 where Republicans won more seats in our legislature, despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans here by a 47-39% margin and despite Democratic voter registration efforts outpacing Republicans by better than 4-to-1 in the months leading up to the 2008 election.
When Secretary of State Hargett filed a bill last January to repeal the TVCA, they received considerable push-back from within their own party. That repeal bill then morphed into a “delay until 2012″ bill, which failed to pass by a single vote in our Senate. Hargett later argued that the TVCA authorizing language required machines up to 2005 standards. It took the presiding judge less than two weeks of reviewing the issues to order the SoS to move forward to implement the TVCA.
That is where we stand now.
A few comments to the original article:
— The nonpartisan national election integrity organization, the Verified Voting Foundation, ranked Tennessee as one of the dozen states most vulnerable to voting abuse. When the TVCA is implemented, Tennessee will join almost 20 states with the most secure voting systems, not simply because we will switch to paper ballots and optical scan machines but also because the TVCA mandates random manual recounts in a handful of precincts in every county to verify the accuracy of the optical scan machines (which, since they are also powered by proprietary software, can also be easily hacked).
— Much of the $37+ million in HAVA funds that Tennessee still holds was originally allocated for the replacement of voting equipment. It will cost us around $25 million to put an optical scan (and a compatible ballot-marking device for disabled voters) into every TN precinct, so the replacement of our current equipment will cost our counties nothing. With the changeover to paper ballots/optical scan, our county election expenses will be 30-40% lower than they are now with the current equipment, and our elections will be conducted much faster than is possible now (because an optical scan machine allows voters to cast their votes 10 to 15 times faster than a touch-screen machine.)
Tom Paine once said “The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery. For slavery consists in being subject to the will of another. And he that has not a vote in the election of representatives is in this case.” (First Principles of Government, 1795). If he were here today, Mr. Paine (known affectionately during the American Revolution as “Common Sense”) might update one of his other famous quotes to read “It is the duty of every patriot to protect his country from its government.”
Keep the TVCA intact and on-track for 2010.
Bernie Ellis, Organizer
Gathering To Save OUR Democracy
This piece was edited for posting. The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the views or opinions of State of Elections or the William and Mary Election Law Society.