Tennessee: Democrats say Hargett trying to kill paper ballots

Tennessee: Democrats say Hargett trying to kill paper ballots

July 10th, 2009 by Andy Sher in Politics State

NASHVILLE - Two Democratic lawmakers on Thursday accused Republican Secretary of State Tré Hargett of trying to sabotage a law requiring all 95 counties to use voting machines with paper ballots by November 2010.

"This money was provided by Congress to help the states provide for fair elections and to give (election) coordinators the ability to determine that vote counts are correct beyond the shadow of a doubt," said House Democratic Leader Gary Odom, of Nashville. "Why there is such opposition to implementing the act is beyond me."

Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, who is running for governor, said Mr. Hargett "raises concerns about the costs, but the costs will be there sooner or later for the 2012 elections, if not for 2010."

In a statement, Mr. Hargett said he's not trying to scuttle the 2008 Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, which says all counties must use voting machines that provide a paper trail in case of recounts or other problems.

"I'm doing my best to implement the act under a seemingly impossible set of circumstances. However, anything worth doing is worth doing right," he said. "Sen. Herron and Rep. Odom seem willing to spend $25 million of taxpayer dollars for less than the best election equipment available in their haste to get something done."

Mr. Hargett said the law requires optical scan voting machines that are certified under guidelines adopted in 2005 by the federal Election Assistance Commission. But no such certifications have been made by the federal board, and Mr. Hargett has said he finds himself in a "Catch-22" situation.

Election Assistance Commission spokeswoman Sarah Litton said by e-mail Thursday that the agency expects to certify two optical scan systems to 2002 standards within two to six weeks, "provided they meet the standards throughout the remainder of the process."

Rep. Odom said the 2002 standard will work just fine and state law does not require the machines to meet any 2005 standard. He accused Mr. Hargett of resisting efforts in this year's Legislature to make that clear.

Rep. Odom also said Mr. Hargett and State Election Coordinator Mark Goins, a former GOP House member, first backed legislation that sought to gut the entire 2008 law, then supported amendments that delayed its effects until 2012. The 2012 effort fizzled as well.

Mr. Hargett has cited the law's cost to counties, which a legislative analysis estimated at $11.7 million. The Obion County Election Commissioner has authorized a county attorney to file a lawsuit asking a judge to delay implementation.

Only Hamilton and Pickett counties now use optical scan systems, in which the voter marks a paper ballot that is tallied by computer. The paper is maintained as a record.

The other 93 counties use direct-recording electronic voting machines similar to an ATM that do not provide a paper record.