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Election certainty needs a put-it-on-paper foundation

All of us should want to ensure that the voting process is as transparent and as fair as possible.
 Shep Wilbun

Recently, you ran articles of an interview with the Shelby County Election Commission’s Chairman and Secretary in the Tri State Defender’s July 14, 2011 and July 21, 2011 editions. During those interviews, Chairman Robert Meyers, while admitting the voting machines are hackable, indicated that he did not believe that hacking or other manipulation was the case with the August 2010 elections. He stated that he believed that “demographics” explained the losses by those who were claiming something improper happened. The inference was that those nine Democrats who lost did so because the traditional Democratic voters did not turn out.

Further in the article, Secretary Norma Lester states that in essence since everything is politically balanced that it is very unlikely that any improper action would take place. As a former Election Commissioner (2 ½ years) and a plaintiff in both the 2006 and 2010 election contest challenges, I feel compelled to challenge these perspectives.

First and foremost, history provides that the voting machines that we use – Diebold TSX – have had numerous instances nationwide of being compromised and/or violated. Second, these machines have many points of vulnerability (including memory cards, GEMS tabulation program, and programming processes) that have been proven to be able to be manipulated so as to change voting results. Third, the 2010 August election investigation by the nine (9) candidates – all Democrats – revealed something called a manual override function on our machines, a feature that allows for precinct totals to be manually changed. (The question is why would anyone want to change vote totals unless they are ensuring a certain winner?)

Further investigation also revealed a “ghost race” where votes were stored to non-existent races for use to add or reduce a candidate’s totals in other races. Other behavior and activities occurred that were violations of the Election Commission’s own policies. My point is that not-withstanding the Chancery Court ruling that our experts did not qualify as experts in our election contest, their findings are factual. The dismissal of the election contest by the judge, without hearing all of the findings by these experts, forms part of our appeal of this case that is still pending.

For the record, let me say that all of us should want to ensure that the voting process is as transparent and as fair as possible. However, party politics is at play in any election that is partisan, and our county-wide August races always are. Even the process of appointment to the Election Commission is a partisan process. In spite of efforts to be viewed as a neutral body, there are Democratic Commissioners and there are Republican Commissioners (2 Democrats and 3 Republicans). The delay in implementing a paper trail for electronic machines, passed by all but 2 members of the Tennessee legislature in 2007, has become partisan and, led by the new Republican majority, been delayed indefinitely.

Given the fact that Shelby County has had two August elections that have been challenged (2006 and 2010), the paper ballot verification should have been implemented as soon as possible, but the Republicans blocked it. Coincidentally, Republicans won all the elections that were contested in 2006 and 2010 (except the 2006 County Mayor’s race).

My point is simply that in this era of “win at all costs,” elections can be changed electronically from remote locations. With no “paper trail,” questions about results cannot be answered with certainty. The fact that there are an equal number of Democrats and Republicans working for the Election Commission at the polls, during early voting tabulation, and in other aspects of the process does not guarantee that manipulation of the vote totals will not and does not take place.

With all due respect to Commissioners Meyers and Lester, enough evidence exists that more issues than just using the wrong database was involved in the August 2010 elections. We all should want to have a full airing of what happened so as to ensure that nothing like that happens ever again. And while continuing to encourage our citizens to vote, we must also make sure that the winners are indeed the winners. Our voters deserve nothing less.

(Shep Wilbun is a former Shelby County Election Commissioner and Juvenile Court Clerk.)

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