Tennessee officials welcome voter files case settlement

photo People vote at Burk's United Methodist Church in Hixson.

NASHVILLE -- A spokesman for Tennessee Secretary of State Tré Hargett and state Election Coordinator Mark Goins said Sunday both welcome a settlement reached last week in a legal dispute involving state voter files.

Tennessee Democratic Party officials say their data experts found full or partial voter histories missing for about 11,000 state-maintained voter files they obtained last month.

The assertions were introduced in federal court Friday in a lawsuit filed by Democrats and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, who was turned away from the polls in the March primary.

"We're actually very happy with this settlement," spokesman Blake Fontenay said in a telephone message on behalf of Hargett and Goins, both Republicans.

"Just like we offered to let you look at voter files to verify they're not missing, we're happy to let a special master come in to do that and we welcome the opportunity. ... We want to be transparent." Judges sometimes appoint special masters in complex civil cases where their expertise would assist the court.

The Times Free Press reported Sunday that U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp requested both sides agree to a proposed consent decree. They did so Friday night, and it will be submitted to the court this week.

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Democrats have not alleged wrongdoing, saying files they believe are missing affect Republicans and independents as well as Democrats.

While voters who skip two successive federal elections can be purged from voting rolls, Fontenay pointed out the law prevents officials from that kind of purging in the 90 days prior to an election.

"The inactive voters are not an issue here," he said. "We will continue to purge [deceased voters] and felons."