Federal election monitors for the May 6th election?
The Rev. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr. is pushing a request to the U.S. Department of Justice and Ninth District Congressman Steve Cohen is using his access to Atty. Gen. Eric Holder to press the case.
Meanwhile, Shelby County Election Commission Chairman Robert Meyers said Wednesday that election monitors would be freely welcomed, if ordered.
The timing backdrop for all the maneuvering is early voting, which kicks off April 16th.
Cohen, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and ranking member of its Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, on Tuesday urged Holder to provide the federal monitors for the upcoming elections in Shelby County.
"Despite an election riddled with errors that was set aside by court order, no changes have been made at the Shelby County Election Commission," said Cohen in a statement issued after he took advantage of Holder's appearance at a Judiciary Committee hearing.
"As I have highlighted on numerous occasions, the Commission has demonstrated a troubling pattern of incompetence over the years – and something must change. I urge the Department of Justice to do everything in its power, including sending monitors to ensure the fairness of our elections, to protect the voters of Shelby County."
In response to Cohen's query during the Judical Committee hearing, Holder acknowledged that his office had received letters, was reviewing the requests and that he would look at anything else Cohen had to provide.
On Wednesday, Meyers said he had not seen the letters, adding that, "I can assure you we have no objections with the Department of Justice monitoring any of the upcoming elections. I would like to point out that we went through the 2013 elections without any minor or serious election issues, but nonetheless, to meet our goal of complete transparency, if DOJ feels it is warranted we will welcome the process."
Cohen's letter to Holder was dated April 2nd. In it, he noted that Whalum had written to Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Jocelyn Samuels expressing concerns about the upcoming election. He noted that Whalum had "successfully sued the Election Commission after an election riddled with errors that the court set aside. Given that no changes have occurred at the Commission despite many documented errors over the last several years, he requests that the Department of Justice examine and monitor the Commission in advance of the upcoming elections. I hope that you will give his request all due consideration."
In his letter to Samuels, also dated April 2nd, Whalum made reference to the Chancery Court suit he filed and won after he "lost" a school board election in August 2012. Noting that the ruling in his favor is on appeal, Whalum said the DOJ's intervention was crucial because "we are on the precipice of one of the largest primary elections in the history" of Shelby County.
Whalum's letter detailed that the state Comptroller of the Treasury, Office of Local Government, State of Tennessee Division of Investigations, and Tennessee Secretary of State Division of Elections all reviewed the August 2012 elections. He noted their finding of a troubling pattern of errors that led to an election "so fraught with error and poor judgment as to have caused the state to conclude the Shelby County Election Commission lacks the ability to conduct elections without significant inaccuracies."
Whalum also pointed out two other "red flag" developments – that the Commission has a history of such problems and that there have been no changes in personnel.
"In other words," Whalum wrote, "the leadership responsible for the myriad negative findings is still in charge."
Meyers said the Commission understands the concerns that have led to the call for monitoring.
"I believe we have resolved all of those issues," he said. "Most of them are related to redistricting and, again, the 2013 elections are reflective of that."
Cohen is seeking reelection and is on the May 6th ballot trying to capture the Democratic Party nomination once again. Whalum is on the ballot as a Democratic Party candidate for mayor of Shelby County.
(This story includes a TSD staff report.)