Thursday, February 13, 2020

Shelby County May Get New Voting System in November After All

Election reform advocates were disheartened earlier this week when there was an announcement at the 
Shelby County Commission that a referendum is needed for the purchase of a new voting system from bond funds. It was thought that there would thus be no new voting system for the November election, as had been promised. Here is a news article about the legal issues around the referendum requirement: 

County Attorney: Funding for new voting machines only through referendum 

That announcement already is out of date, because we were told yesterday at a Shelby County Election Commission meeting that a voting system can be purchased without a referendum because sources of funding are available that will not require the issuance of bonds. It is likely that the new system could be in place by the November Election.

Please see Steve Mulroy, law professor, at Citizens to be Heard at the Shelby County Election Commission yesterday.

What type of Voting System will Shelby County Purchase?  

Will New Voting Machines that include hand-marked ballots be bought this year for Shelby County?    

The current system is outdated, and insecure, because it has no "paper trail" for audits and recounts. In a divided vote earlier this year, the Shelby County Election Commission requested funding for a computerized system that spits out a paper receipt. Detractors of this type of system believe that this system can still be hacked by a quick insertion of a flash drive, and that studies show that most voters do not check their paper receipt for accuracy. It is also considerably more expensive than a hand-marked, scanned ballot system.

The County Commission meeting on Monday, in a 7-6 vote, approved only enough funding for a hand-marked paper ballot system that can be immediately scanned and tabulated at each election site. The ballots would then go into a secured box which could be hand-counted for recounts. The system is in use in Chattanooga, and is the system that is the consensus choice among election security experts. A grass roots group which includes Republicans, Democrats, and independent voters has been vocal in pushing the hand-marked system in Shelby County. See Hand-marked Paper Ballots are Cheap and Secure  

So where does this leave us? Rinse and repeat. The Election Commission is seeking new bids on voting systems, and will have to approve another request after staff finishes analyzing the new bids and submitting their request to the Election Commissioners. 

It is pretty much guaranteed that Linda Phillips, administrative leader of the Election Commission, will still not recommend approval of the hand-marked paper ballot system, as she has refused to accept the consensus view of election experts that the scanned, hand marked ballots are more secure. She did not even entertain any bids on hand-marked systems in the first set of bidding. In fact, according to Mulroy (see above), she announced after this week's Shelby County Commission vote for funding of the hand-marked system that she intended to sue the Shelby County Commission over the decision.

To top it all off, citizens who attended the Election Commission meeting Wednesday accused the Linda Phillips of still excluding hand-marked ballot systems in the language of the request for bid proposals. She immediately denied this. When citizens were not satisfied with this answer, Election Commissioner Bennie Smith, an advocate of the hand-marked system promised to read the document and confer with Ms. Phillips about the matter if it does not include hand-marked systems.

The bottom line? Expect more drama. I urge everyone to continue to contact the Shelby County Election Commissioners and the Shelby County Commissioners, and urge them to accept the consensus-choice of election security experts- scanned, hand-marked paper ballots that provide an accurate paper trail for recounts. Here is a screenshot from a Fox 13 video on the Shelby County Commission vote which urged a hand-marked voting system.  

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