All Tennesseans believe we deserve fair and accurate elections. This belief unites us as Tennesseans like no other. Heck, I’d even go as far as to say it united us as Americans.

So when I read yesterday that Secretary of State Tre Hargett was going to move forward with purchasing the optical scan machines needed to count the paper ballots that the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act (TVCA) of 2008 mandates we use in November 2010, I was overcome with comfort and joy.

You see, those of use who have been urging implementation of the TVCA were elated when last month the protracted battle over implementation of the TVCA was put to rest and the Act, which was overwhelmingly supported by the people of Tennessee through their legislature, was now also fully validated by the courts.

It seemed, we believed, that Tennesseans were finally going to get the fair and accurate elections we deserve.

But then I read Jackson Baker’s Memphis Flyer article a little more closely and I realized, uh-oh, what we’re actually going to get is some post-holiday coal in our little red bootie stockings thingies.

FAIR AND ACCURATE. “I think we’ve got a 2005-quality machine,” Secretary of State Hargett said in a meeting in Memphis earlier this week, inferring that an optical scan machine made in any other year would be inadequate.

I’d like to clear up a few inaccuracies that Mr. Hargett’s chock-full one sentence statement infers.

First, the TVCA was passed to give us paper ballots, not voting machines. The paper ballots would not only record the voter’s intent but would also become the ballot of record in the case of a close election. In other words, the strength of the bill is in the paper ballot and not the machine that count the ballots. I mean, be good for goodness sake!, we could hand count the paper ballots in case of emergency and skip the machine counting process completely. Paper ballots are to optical scan machines as portable hard drives are to your computer.

To put it more simply, paper ballots give Tennesseans control over the results of our elections by giving us the ability to oversee, recount, and audit. In other words, trust but verify.

Mr. Baker followed up Mr. Hargett’s statement with an editorial comment, rife with inaccuracies: “‘I think we’ve got a 2005-quality machine,’ Hargett said in Memphis Tuesday night. Meaning that an optical-scan voting apparatus with paper-trail capability would soon be available in enough quantity to conduct statewide elections in 2010.”

The paper ballot – and the voters intent – gets counted by the optical scan machine. Or counted by hand if necessary. The optical scan machine does not produce a paper trail nor does it give the voter a receipt.

Again, the TVCA puts the emphasis on the paper ballot – not on the machines that count them – because Tennesseans prefer paper ballots that produce something tangible that they can oversee, recount, and audit. This is a much better system than the paperless electronic touch-screen voting machines we currently use that count votes using software that no one is allowed to see or monitor.

BI-PARTISAN. Accurate elections are the responsibility of the people of Tennessee, and the people of Tennessee want paper ballots. That’s why the TVCA was passed almost unanimously (when the hell does that ever happen?) in the General Assembly in 2008 – that means that 56 out of a possible 60 Republicans and 68 out of a possible 68 Democrats voted for the TVCA.

It truly was a bi-partisan effort.

The bill to delay the TVCA that Mr. Hargett mentions in the article is a divisive issue to be sure, and will most likely be brought to the Senate floor for a vote by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey by January of 2010. This bill not only delays until 2012 the date the Act must be implemented, but also guts the mandatory audit procedures.

The audit procedures that would alert us to any problem with the vote count.

Again, Tennesseans want and deserve fair and accurate elections, but how can we make sure our elections are fair and accurate unless we are able to randomly audit the results?

FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE “The real question is if there are other costs required of the counties. We can purchase the machines, but that’s all we can do,” Mr. Hargett said, admitting that the state has approximately $34 million federal dollars available that can only be used by the state to purchase election equipment.”

In these uncertain economic times, all Tennesseans are focused on fiscal responsibility. But if our concern is saving money, the best thing we can do is implement the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act.

For example, with the TVCA only one Optical Scan machines is needed per precinct instead of the multiple machines needed with the paperless electronic touch screen voting system we use now.

And because we eliminate up to 80% of existing equipment when we move to paper ballots counted by optical scan machines, counties will save the money they now spend to program, service, test, store and transport so many unnecessary paperless electronic touch-screen machines.

In fact, studies in Florida, Maryland, and North Carolina have confirmed that voting with paper ballots counted by optical scan machines is 30-40% cheaper than voting the way we do now because of the reduction in programming, software, maintenance, storage and transportation costs.

We’re all hyper-aware that local budgets are strained and that necessary services run the risk of being cut. But fair and accurate elections are the most necessary of all our public structures. They are what gives life to all the others.

Look at it this way, your vote is your voice. And if your vote doesn’t get counted for the candidate who will vote with you on the issue or issues most important to you, then your participation in our democracy is an illusion.

All Tennesseans believe we deserve fair and accurate elections. The Tennessee Voter Confidence, aptly named, gives them to us.

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5 Responses to “What Unites Tennesseans: The Bi-Partisan, Fiscally Responsible, Paper Ballot Edition.”

  1. [...] of verifiable and auditable paper ballots by the November 2010 election – was passed almost unanimously in the State House and State Senate in 2008. It was a bi-partisan effort and ceremoniously signed [...]

  2. [...] of the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act (TVCA) until 2012 AND gut the most meaningful provisions (recount and audit) is coming back for a vote in the State Senate during the first two weeks of session (sometime in [...]

  3. Bernie Ellis says:

    Good morning to two of my favorite reality-based journalists, Mary and Jackson.

    Just be careful handling hyperbole, Mary. It can be dangerous in the wrong hands (even in the right hands, and even among friends). Leave that to the pros and to suspected terrorists.

    Good article. I wonder if Ryan is asleep or on a better class of meds these days.

  4. Mary Mancini says:

    Jackson! You’re right, I was being a little hyperbolic with the “rife with inaccuracies.” My apologies.

    And I guess I misread the statement as well. I thought you were describing a process in which a printer is attached to the machine and a copy of the ballot is printed after the voting is complete.

    And thank you for granting my point about the paper ballots – so important!

    See you ’round the ol’ LP soon enough!

  5. Jackson Baker says:

    Ooops! There I was, thinking me and Miz Mary wuz on the same page, but I find myself indicted for “an editorial comment, rife with inaccuracies.” Well, gosh, I hope she won’t mind if I plead Not Guilty.

    First of all, I was summarizing what I took Hargett to be saying — not making an “editorial statement.”

    Secondly, the statement is, I would suggest, perfectly accurate. Even granting her point — that it’s the paper ballots that count, not the means of counting them, it’s still possible to speak of “an optical-scan voting apparatus with paper-trail capability.” The machine is, after all, designed to be used for voting, and, specifically, for counting paper ballots. Ergo, providing for, and being capable of, a paper trail. Wherein is the error?

    Although, gee, since I — like most folks who’ve encountered Miss Mancini — am quite taken with her, I don’t mind her considering me “rife.” Just not with inaccuracies, please.

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