Election Commission votes to delay rollout of electronic poll books

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 8:18pm

The Davidson County Election Commission has decided not to use electronic poll books in this fall’s general election.

The decision comes just more than a week after evidence surfaced that some voters, including three elected officials, were not asked which primary they wanted to vote in, but given Republican ballots for the Aug. 2 elections. Tennessee Citizen Action and the Metro Council had called for independent audits of the election.

The new electronic poll books were used at 60 voting precincts in the Aug. 2 elections, with plans to deploy them throughout the county for the general elections. Now the new tools, purchased for $777,000 in July, won’t be involved in the November voting process at all.

Instead, paper poll books will be used at all 160 county precincts for the Nov. 6 elections. Electronic poll books will be used only for informational purposes, such as verifying the correct precinct for a voter.

Several commissioners expressed confidence in the electronic poll books and noted that they were voting to delay the planned rollout “reluctantly.” They said, however, ensuring voter confidence in the fairness of the election process was more important.

In a presentation to the commission, Elections Administrator Albert Tieche illustrated how voters in three precincts may have received Republican ballots in error but were given the correct ballots before they actually voted. The problem, he said, arose when poll workers failed to follow protocol to make sure that correction was properly recorded.

In the case of Sheriff Daron Hall, Tieche said that if Hall had alerted a poll worker that he had been given a Republican ballot in error, the problem could have been fixed before he voted.

A spokeswoman for Election Systems & Software (ES&S), the company that manufactures the electronic poll books, testified that the commission did not instruct the company to make the Republican ballot the default. In an effort to decrease the amount of steps in the process, however, the setup of the poll books made it easier for a poll worker to erroneously select an application for a Republican ballot.

“This was a door left open to human error,” Tieche said. “Some of our humans went through that door.”

Both Tieche and the ES&S spokeswoman said the setup problem had been fixed.