Democratic Chair Faults GOP for Election Foul-Ups

The leader of the Tennessee Democratic Party says he’s concerned with all the mistakes and inconsistencies that arose in the primary elections the state and local governments administered earlier this month.

And legislative Republicans are mostly to blame for the snafus, Chip Forrester told reporters at the Capitol Wednesday.

The problems could potentially have been avoided by requiring that votes be recorded on paper ballots and entered into a scanner — instead of almost entirely on computer systems, the party chairman suggested.

“We would probably not necessarily be in this situation with some certainly if we had that,” he said. “And it is a disappointment that Republicans have not seen that this is a tool that will be useful for counting votes accurately and properly in the election process.”

Under the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, passed in 2008, counties were supposed to have purchased ballots and optical scanning voting machines to fully embrace the new ballot-counting practice by November.

Driven by Republicans who said in January that cash-strapped counties lacked the money during an economic downturn to buy new equipment, the Legislature voted to delay implementation until 2012.

The delay-measure, HB614, easily passed both chambers with a combined House-Senate vote of 95-30 — with 29 Democrats and one Republican against it.

The Voter Confidence Act also required the state use advanced ballot-counting technology that hadn’t yet been developed, said state Sen. Bill Ketron, who sponsored the legislation to stall the law’s start date. He said he didn’t want to make counties “throw out the machines they bough a few short years ago” to buy new ones.

“The delay was to wait until 2012 to give the manufacturers of the machines time to catch up,” said the Murfreesboro Republican. “I think everybody who voted for (the act) thought those machines would be here, but they’re not.”

The new process is meant to create additional set of checks and balances to verify all votes cast are counted in each election, he said.

Several races in this month’s primary election ended with razor-thin margins, giving the slightest ballot-counting discrepancies the potential to change the outcome of a contest.

Case in point is the Nashville state Senate race between incumbent Sen. Douglas Henry and his challenger Jeff Yarbro.

Tallies last left the senator 11 votes ahead of Yarbro, although the unofficial vote totals have changed four times since election day.

The Democratic Party’s executive committee will decide Monday night, after Davidson County certifies the election results, whether to request a recount.

Other electoral rough patches included Davidson County officials discovering a voting machine that had never been counted, a missed early-election voting day in Rutherford County and a previous election’s votes loaded into Shelby County voting machines.

Even if the Legislature hadn’t postponed the new requirements, Tennessee Secretary of State officials maintain, these kinds of mistakes still could have happened.

“In every election there is the potential for mistakes to be made, particularly human error,” said Blake Fontenay. “Even if you moved to paper ballots, you’d still have the potential for issues to arise.”