Group enlists voting-machine expert to aid paper ballot case

Sunday, October 25, 2009 at 11:45pm

The citizen-advocacy group Common Cause has enlisted an expert on voting machines to make its case in a lawsuit to force Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett to switch to paper ballots by the 2010 elections.

In new court documents, Common Cause introduces an affidavit from University of Iowa computer science professor Douglas Jones to try to undercut Hargett’s arguments against abandoning the state’s touch-screen voting machines.

“This case involves a threat to the sanctity of the vote in Tennessee,” Common Cause says in the new court papers.

In Tennessee, 93 of 95 counties use touch-screen machines. Election reform activists criticize this system because it lacks a paper trail, making it impossible to verify results.

A year ago, the legislature enacted the Voter Confidence Act requiring a new system by 2010 — paper ballots to be marked by voters and then read by optical scanners. That would allow for recounts and audits of the actual tallies.

But election officials have argued that 2010 would be too soon to make a smooth transition. The law requires optical-scan machines to meet "the applicable voluntary voting systems guidelines," which Hargett interprets as 2005 federal standards. But at last report, there were no such machines yet.

"I really want to make this work, but I can't provide counties with equipment that doesn't exist," Hargett has said.

Common Cause’s lawsuit asks Davidson County Chancellor Russell Perkins to decide whether Hargett's interpretation of the law is correct. Common Cause argues that 2002 standards satisfy the requirements for the new machines.

In his affidavit, Jones recommends that Tennessee make the switch immediately by buying machines meeting 2002 standards. He says the state can upgrade those machines to meet new standards.

Jones says voters using the new system “have a significantly higher likelihood of having their votes counted and counted as intended” than voters using touch-screen machines.

Common Cause asks Perkins to order Hargett to begin implementing the Voter Confidence Act.

A hearing on the issue has been set for Nov. 5.


2 Comments on this post:

By: pswindle on 10/26/09 at 7:30

Tennessee needs a good, clean election where there can be a recount. I can't believe that Tennessee is so behind the times. With the frequency of recounts, Tennesse should be able to do this.

By: TenaseHB on 10/26/09 at 9:05

Thanks to City Paper and Jeff Wood for staying on top of the most important story of our time in this state. Secretary of State Hargett is about to be educated in public -- by Dr. Jones and many, MANY others -- on just how stubbornly stupid, uneducated, transparent and sinister he and his little hill-billy sidekick, Mark Goins , look right now by continuing to insist that they can disrespect the law and keep our elections unsafe (and fraud-friendly) here in Tennessee. Their effort to repeal, delay and severely damage the TN Voter Confidence Act is about to be revealed for just what it is -- and what it has likely always been -- about.

Why on earth, in this democracy-loving republic, would any political party and its leaders (Hargett, Ramsey, Ketron, etc., etc, ad nauseam) identify keeping our elections unsafe for 2010 as their Number 1 legislative priority in January? Why indeed? Unless, of course, their ascendancy was built in the first place on those insecure black-box "vapor trails" that they are now defending past the point of all logic, common sense and understanding of what an honest election requires.

Come on, Hargett, show us that you understand what a level playing field looks like. Show us that you understand that the Voter Confidence Act will not only make our elections safer, but faster and cheaper as well. Show us that you recognize the reality-based world at long last, the one where respect and reverence for the consent of the governed still resides.

Or, with all due respect (sic), find something else to do. Soon. Please. I am sure there are enough moderate Republicans left in the TN/GOP to find someone who understands what safe, secure, free and fair elections look like. Regardless of our political persuasion, we ALL owe that much to the maintenance of our liberty. Why Hargett still doesn't understand that makes one wonder just what country he thinks he lives in. It's long past time he learns.