Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Welcome to the Cluster####

Ladies and Gentlemen of Tennessee, go get yourself a cup of coffee, or a spot of tea, whichever you may prefer, because this is going to be a long one.

All settled in? Good, because I am going to attempt to summarize the last few days of Early Voting, as presented to you by YOUR Shelby County Election Commission.

Vibinc, better known to thee and me as Steve Ross, candidate for County Commission, District 1, has been warning us for some time now that the SCEC had not adequately prepared for the August election and early vote.  I had no idea how right he was.

First, I walked into Greater Lewis Street Church to early-vote, and right off the bat I expressed concerns to the election judge that I wanted to see if my ballot would have the correct State House District.  The judge was quite happy to see that I was prepared, and we both caught it when the lady at the desk prepared a ballot for me with the wrong precinct.  In accordance with her instructions, I backed away, waited the four minutes of no action for the card to pop out, and watched as the judge went back to the lady and showed her how to do the right ballot.  I received the correct card, voted, then, while checking my summary, I saw that a vote had registered for REPUBLICAN Tim Walton for Assessor.  Oh hell no.  I backed up the ballot, changed my vote to Cheyenne Johnson, checked the summary again, all was right with the world and I cast my ballot.

Staff at Greater Lewis Street, I applaud you; you handled things exactly as anyone could have hoped. However, the question must be asked: what if it had been someone else who was not as involved as you or I?

I had noticed that screwups over the weekend had cost some suburban voters the right to vote in their municipal school district races.  They were PISSED and had every right to be.  Ross, being the sharp guy that he is, noticed this and wrote about it yesterday morning.  Little did we know that one (more than one)  of our friends would soon be affected.

Tuesday afternoon, I got a text from David Holt, a former SCDP Executive Committee member and all around good guy, asking if I was near a computer.  He was texting and then calling because his district was showing on the ballot as House 98, which is a mile NORTH of where he lives, which is now in District 93, represented by our friend Mike Kernell.  As Holt has been knocking on doors for Mike, he knew damn well he was NOT in 98, even if the SCEC's precinct locator showed he lived there, contradicting the legislature's own MAP, also available at the SCEC website.

David wrote about this last night, go read it now, I'll wait.  What is so galling about this is the absolute lack of concern on the part of the polling staff at Berclair Baptist Church, the complete OPPOSITE of what I experienced Monday morning at Lewis Street.  David smartly cancelled his ballot, and started calling people.

Once his post hit, we made sure it got all over not only the county but all over the STATE via social media.  David did receive responses from Commissioners Norma Lester and George Monger (Democrats) and Richard Holden (Republican), who arranged a meeting with David for this morning.

Monger and Holt were greeted by Joe Young, who is on staff for the SCEC, and who agreed with David as to the problems.  David was allowed to vote, and he talks more about the meeting here.

While all this was going on, I received an email from one of the Commissioners, whose name I shall omit of my own choice.  This person's first email to me was as follows:

I received a "forwarded"  email that your forwarded regarding "big problems in Shelby" related to the current election. I must say I was surprised at the gleeful tone of that email, but even more so I was surprised that you would pass on such harmful suggestions to voters. I fail to understand how contacting you would help a voter resolve a ballot problem?

If you are interested in helping voters,  this is what you should tell them :
1.  They should  be prepared before going to the polling place. Know who they will vote for and know their precinct number. Their precinct number is on their voter registration card and on the     sheet of paper (ballot application) they sign at the polls.
2.  The poll worker is supposed to walk them to a voting machine, the voter inserts the voting card; on the upper left hand side of the screen their
     precinct number will appear. The worker compares those numbers with the voter and then steps away so the voter can vote privately.
3.  If those numbers do not match a new card is programmed and the same confirming procedure is followed.
4.  If the numbers match but the voter realizes at some point during the voting process that something is missing from his ballot he should STOP immediately    and summons the officer.   
5.  NEVER EVER push that final "cast ballot" button until after carefully checking the summary page. The summary page shows the choices you have made; if any are incorrect they can be corrected at that point. Some voters have a light touch and the machine fails to acknowledge their choice,if so, they should touch the choice until it correctly appears on the screen.  Once that confirmation-Cast-Ballot-Button is pushed, nothing can be  done about that ballot. It has been cast.
    HOWEVER - if the voter notices a problem, before he pushes that final button, and waits until the officer comes to him the officer can void that ballot, and resolve the problem
     right then and there.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions. Everyone wants good, clean, problem-free elections and working together we can accomplish this goal.

Well, the first problem with this was that the first thing I had done after confirming with David that his ballot was wrong was to tell him to go to the staff there, and he followed that procedure, and I also gave him contact information for the two Democrats on the Commission, Norma and George.  Not thrilled about this, I replied thusly:

When my friend Mr. Holt experienced the problems that he experienced (if you are unaware, please stop here and read this: gthe first thing that I did was to give him contact information for Norma Lester and George Monger. 
Secondly, once you read Mr. Holt's information and find that the information provided him on the Precinct Locator was INCORRECT (it showed him in HD 98 when the very map to which it links shows him in HD 93), how can you state people need to be prepared when the information provided to them from your website is in accurate and unreliable. 
While we are on this subject, I continue to be aggravated by Mr. Holden cl;aiming that the delays in getting "accurate" information to the public were caused by the County Commission, when in fact the County Commission's new districts won't matter for another two years!  He has also indicated that your office has "two weeks" to get this right before election day.  No, the first day of EARLY VOTING isd Election Day and every day there is voting thereafter is Election Day. 
I digress. 
I have been involved with politics in this county since 1978 and I am quite familiar with the elective process.  While I am certain that you and your fellow commissioners are providing oversight, your operations at this time are not acceptable at this time.  As these problems affect not only Memphians but suburban residents desperate to vote on whether to create their own school districts, this is a bipartisan and county wide issue.
I would love nothing more to direct people with problems to the Election Commission, and, in fact, as my note about Mr. Holt shows, I have. 
I would just like to have more confidence in their operations.

Ok, I was pissed, admittedly.  The Commissioner sought to reply to me regarding my County Commission statement:
I direct you attention to the On the very top of that page,even today, we are quite clearly alerting people with an alert button. Following that button it states that the redistricting and precincts information is not current.

Regarding the County Commission district situation and their failure to determine lines etc. You are incorrect that the County Commission lines don't matter until another 2 years.   Their lines effect and involve much more than their own districts.  School board lines are involved, precinct locations, and other lines which cannot cross County Commission lines. Regardless of when they next run for office, their district lines had to be known before other lines could be drawn. There was much more involved than just County Commission districts lines.

Our attorneys made sure the County Commission as a whole and individually knew of the critical nature of their delay. Having to condense a normal 3-month project into less than six weeks is bound to create some problems. Our IT man warned us several weeks ago and asked for our support and understanding. The commission is doing the very best we can do under the circumstances.

Your Mr. Holt did the correct thing to not continue with a ballot missing info he knew should be there. Telling people to call for an officer and void a ballot is the correct things to do, your Mr. Holt was an informed voter, he knew who was supposed to be on this ballot and was able to correct the situation because he was an alert, informed voter.All voters should be as aware. 

This is in essence the SCEC's Argument as to why things are screwed up.  However, I disagreed with this contention and replied thusly:
As the new County Commission lines do NOT match the new USB lines (or the Old ones, for that matter), would you care to elaborate on this comment:
Regarding the County Commission district situation and their failure to determine lines etc. You are incorrect that the County Commission lines don't matter until another 2 years.   Their lines effect and involve much more than their own districts.  School board lines are involved, precinct locations, and other lines which cannot cross County Commission lines. Regardless of when they next run for office, their district lines had to be known before other lines could be drawn. There was much more involved than just County Commission districts lines.  
What lines cannot cross County Commission lines?  How, since these races will not take place until 2014, does that affect all the other races?  Frankly, I find your comments not helpful at all.
Undaunted, the Commissioner upbraided me:
I am sorry that you did not find my comments helpful.

County Commission lines and State Senate lines cannot cross! Senate 28 was moved out of Shelby County which meant that essentially all the State Senate lines in Shelby County were redrawn and none of the County Commission lines could cross over those lines.  Do you understand? Had to know County Commission lines, before State Senate lines could be redrawn..

Natural boundaries, streets etc must also be taken into consideration as well as census tracts, precinct locations etc. to equalize the numbers of voters in each state Senate district. That population range is 183,182 to 200,812.

In addition, precinct consolidations resulting from building closures or to comply with ADA had to be taken into consideration. This will be the first election in Shelby County where all the precincts are ADA compliant.   Those issues were hanging on the much delayed County Commission decision. As I stated before, our attorneys made every attempt to convey the severity of the situation to the County Commission and I believe a judge finally made the decision for them less than 6 weeks before the election.

I believe there were 21,000 streets that had to be physically looked at after the County Commission finally drew their lines. So, Mr. Steffens, I think we are doing a good job under the above circumstances. I ask that you direct voters (1), to be aware and if something is not right on their ballot they (2) should call the Precinct officer over to their machine before they have pushed the final "cast ballot" button. (3) No one can help them IF they push the final Cast Ballot button. They can possibly be helped on the spot if they get the precinct officer.   
This puzzled me, as Senate Districts 28, 30 and 31 all run in and out of Commission District 1.  How could this be.  I responded thusly:

While I certainly appreciate your patience, your previous response has only engendered more questions on my part. 
1. If Commission and State Senate lines cannot cross, explain why current County Commission Dist.1 has old Senate Districts 28, 30, and 31 in it.
In fact, it would be impossible for County Commission lines to conform to State Senate districts as the County Commission district is larger than a State Senate district.
Where in TCA does it state this? 
2. Interesting that precinct consolidation is brought up as the lack of redistricting info from the County Commission could slow this process down because precincts cannot be split between two Commission districts. So, while there's no doubt that precinct consolidation was hamstrung, that never precluded the Election Commission from updating Senate Districts. 
3. How would the County Commission have met its 1/1/12 deadline and conformed their districts to Senate lines that were not approved and published by the TNSOS office until 2/14/12? 
Again, thank you for your patience.
I then received this final response:
Sorry, but too busy to continue to explain, so this will be my last brief attempt  -- IF senate 28-30-and 31 were  indeed completely contained in Co Comm 1, then they did not cross out of Dist 1. but were contained completely within Dist 1 hence, they did not cross county commission lines.  ( they weren't partly in one commission dist and partly in another so did not cross lines)

As far as I know this has always been the rule and I have definitely know many years however, I did call to confirm before last email -- could be a county or state rule, I don't know, but it is accurate.  
Except, of course, that it is NOT accurate.  I asked Ross about this, and he contacted the Comptroller's office, who confirmed that it is not accurate.  Ross then put out ANOTHER post about this situation, which I urge all of you to read here.  Seriously, stop what you're reading here and go to it and then come back, we are almost done.  I promise!

Please, I implore all of you to VOTE EARLY, because if you do it before July 28 and there's a problem, it can be FIXED, so long as you do NOT cast your ballot before contacting the election officials.  If they refuse to help, have them VOID your ballot and call the SCEC to complain.  If you wait until August 2 to complain, it will be too late, and this election is TOO important.  To be honest, some of us are already investigating private reports that up to 5% of those who cast early ballots on Friday and Saturday may have received ballots with the incorrect State House District on it, as what happened to David Holt.  They probably figured it was all right due to recent redistricting.

The lesson: always be prepared, even if the information you receive from official authorities may not be accurate. 

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