Voter advocacy group Common Cause Tennessee said they are disappointed about the outcome of Thursday’s decision by a Davidson County court to deny a temporary injunction that would force state officials to switch to paper ballots for the 2010 elections, but remain positive going forward.
“We’re pleased that the court understands that this is a serious issue,” said J. Gerard Stranch, the plaintiff’s attorney. “The court did seem to be a little disappointed in the defendants’ lack of movement on the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, but I think any citizen of Tennessee would be because this is an important issue and effectively nothing’s been done on it since the law was passed.”
Stranch said the group was particularly heartened by Chancellor Russell Perkins’ concluding comments, where he said although he could not support the plaintiff’s legal argument today, Perkins shared some of their concerns.
Common Cause Tennessee, which has filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins, hoped the injunction would force the state to begin the process of implementing paper ballots in time for the 2010 elections.
Stranch argued the court should intervene because Hargett and Goins’ failure to act was misuse of their positions, put the rights of voters in eminent jeopardy and could potentially result in the state incorrectly using federal funds from the Help America Vote Act.
In his decision, Perkins said the plaintiffs failed to prove Hargett and Goins’ actions were a wrong use of their office or whether the absence of paper ballot machines would unquestionably result in an infringement of voters’ rights. He also stated the “court declines to intervene on the question of how the state uses HAVA funds at this time.”
“The court is sensitive to the issues raised by the plaintiff in this case and the court is concerned about some of the slow progress that appears to be associated with this particular act,” Perkins added.
Hargett and Goins have said publicly they plan to move forward with the implementation of a paper ballot system as required by the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, but that they would not do so until machines up to the 2005 standards become available. Common Cause has argued existing machines tooled to the 2002 standards are acceptable and must be implemented soon in order to be ready by the 2010 elections.
In a statement released following the decision, Goins said the group’s lawsuit has stalled the process.
“As acknowledged by the plaintiffs in their lawsuit, we intended for a request for proposal to be issued by now, and they sued to stop the RFP process,” the statement said. “Taking into account the court process, including appeals, it appears we will have to wait until late December or January to issue the RFP.”
Following today’s decision, a date will now be scheduled for a dismissal motion filed by the defense claiming the court does not have the authority to impose its own discretion in place of Hargett’ and Goins’.
As the proceedings move ahead, Stranch feels positive the court understands the importance of the suit, but declined to speculate on whether or not the state was any closer to seeing paper ballots in the 2010 election.
“We just don’t know what the state’s reaction is going to be,” he said. “I hope they take it to heart and they do give us a paper ballot.”
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