NASHVILLE — Tennessee Democrats say their analysis of Secretary of State records shows more than 11,000 voters across the state have parts or even all of their voting histories “disappear” between December and last month.
Among them are 527 voters in Hamilton County, according to Democrats, who call the entire issue “troubling” and warn it could lead to some voters getting unfairly purged from voting lists.
State Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester earlier this week fired off a letter to State Election Coordinator Mark Goins, a Republican, asking for a “full and detailed explanation” as well as an “independent review ... to ensure there are not more missing voting records or systemic flaws” in the state’s voter files.
“As you are undoubtedly aware, an inactive voting history can lead to a voter being purged from the rolls,” Forrester warned. “Failure to maintain adequate voting records can have the pernicious consequence of disenfranchising” legitimate voters.
Tennessee law says election officials can purge voters who haven’t voted in the past two federal elections if they do not respond later to an address confirmation notice. Some lost their 2008 and 2010 history.
Tennessee has some 3.9 million registered voters.
In a response to Forrester, Goins said, “We take very seriously our duty to maintain accurate voting records. We are happy to research the information you have brought to our attention.”
Goins, who works for Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett, asked Forrester for the names of the voters and the methodology Democratic analysts utilized when comparing December 2011 computerized voting files with May 2012 files.
“I realize that you’re not alleging any improper purges have taken place, but I want to be clear that federal and state statutes require notice to be sent to voters before they are removed from the rolls for inactivity,” Goins wrote.
Party officials said they discovered problems in 69 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Each Tennessee county has its an election commission.
Nashville attorney George Barrett represents former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., and state Democrats in a federal lawsuit over Democrats, including Davis, who say they were illegally prevented from voting in the March 2012 presidential primary. Davis was purged in a mix-up over voting venues in which state officials later acknowledged they had erred.
Barrett said he intends to use Democrats’ recent analysis in the case. He said because the analysis shows a good number of lost or altered voter histories in counties like Shelby and Davidson but none or almost none in a number of others.
“That tells you the law is not being uniformly enforced by the coordinator of elections,” Barrett said. “It’s required by the statute. It’s mandatory. That’s what we’re after, failure of the coordinator’s of the office to coordinate the elections so the elections are uniformly followed in this state.”
According to Democrats, they found problems in voter files affecting 2,938 voters in Davidson County and 1,115 in Shelby.
In a memo to “interested parties,” state Democratic Party Executive Director Jennifer Wallace noted there has been a “great deal of attention given” in recent weeks to the disappearance of voting histories for 488 registered in Shelby County.
Allegations by a voting rights activist that voting histories of the mostly black registered voters were deleted from Shelby County Election Commission records have prompted calls for federal and state investigations by Democrats there, The Commercial Appeal of Memphis has reported.
But Wallace in her memo noted that the “analysis of two recent statewide voter files provided by state election officials paints an even more troubling picture.” The Democratic National Committee’s voter protection team participated in the analysis.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...