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. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

For Whom I voted, and why, and for whom I would vote were I in those districts.

I early voted today at Greater Lewis Street Church at East Parkway and Poplar.

As one can imagine, I voted in the General for Cheyenne Johnson for Assessor, Ed Stanton Jr for General Sessions Court Clerk, and Carol Chumney for District Attorney General.  If I lived in County Commission District 1, I would have voted for Steve Ross; I took two people who do live in 1 and they voted for him!

Oh, the School Board?  I read the information available at Coalition for A Better Memphis, each of the statements by the Candidates (Dr. Freda Williams, Chris Caldwell, and Dr. Noel G. Hutchinson).  After reading those, I decided to vote for Dr. Noel Hutchinson.  Surprised?  So was I.  I just was not happy with Freda Williams for her fight against the merger, and Caldwell had a lot of GOP backing.  I went with Hutchinson.

In the primary, I went with Park Overall in the Senate race; she may not have money, but she damn sure SOUNDS like a Democrat, and we need that if nothing else.  I will be proud to vote for her over the 1-percenter Bob Corker.

For Congress, who the hell do you think?  Steve Cohen is the best Congressman we could hope to have right now.  Tomeka Hart revealed herself to be a Blue Dog and a Junior wannabe in this godawful Daily News interview.  Enough said.

As I was redistricted out of Senate 30 (more later on that race), I at least got to stay in House 93 (but only by two blocks).  GA Hardaway's House 92 was moved to Middle Tennessee, and he got thrown into District 93 with 38-year veteran Mike Kernell.  I like GA, he has always been great to me whenever I have been in Nashville, and he's a nice guy.

However, he's not always been on the same side as I have (and yes, Mike voted for that idiotic bill that opens up intelligent design to our classrooms, I know), but at the end of the day, Mike has been one of my closest friends for 30 years.  At the end of the day, he has more experience negotiating the now-treacherous and unfriendly waters of Nashville.

Ok, enough about my districts.  There are other folks in Shelby County.

In the State Senate, thanks to redistricting, I was torn out of Senate 30 and placed in Senate 33, which is held by ALEC-linked Democrat Reginald Tate.  He's not up for another two years.  Back to 30.

Senator Jim Kyle's old Senate 28 was originally redrawn to include GOP Senator Brian Kelsey (R-31) of Germantown, which meant that they would have faced this year, and I was delirious at the prospect of The Stunt Baby's defeat.  However, Kelsey, whined, and 28 was shipped off to Middle Tennessee, and Kyle was thrown into 31, which meant that Kyle would be out of a job in January.

Somehow, the GOP redistricting crew allowed Kyle to keep most of his old district, now known as 30, which had very little of the Midtown area that elected Beverly Marrero.  I know Jim Kyle's been Democratic Leader for several years, and he has had several opportunities to move up, whether it was for County Mayor, Congress, or District Attorney General.   However, at every juncture, he decided to play it safe and stay where he was.

Beverly Marrero has rarely played it safe, taking controversial (if correct) positions on women's issues, marriage equality and child trafficking.  In short, she's got guts, and is not afraid of anyone or anything, even if she's vastly outnumbered now in the Senate.  That's why I am asking you to vote for her if you live in 30.  Jim Kyle should be running for something bigger, but, as usual, he's playing it safe, and we need people who are risk-takers now.  I support Beverly Marrero, and you should too.

In House 84, my friend Joe Towns Jr is facing opposition from Hendrell Remus, who started to run for City Council last year against Janis Fullilove, but then backed out.  I do encourage younger Democrats to run, but Towns is too valuable to lose right now, so I hope you'll support him for re-election.

Now, to House 90.  John Deberry has represented a district for 20 years that consisted of western Midtown reaching into South Memphis and Whitehaven.  John always voted with Democrats on economic issues; fortunately, when Democrats controlled the legislature, social issue bills were buried before they could reach the House floor, so his conservative stances never mattered.  I like John, he is a good person, but on these social issues, we do not agree.

And now that he has lost some of his South Memphis area to be replaced with more upscale and yes, more gay sections of Midtown, and since the GOP loves to vote against women and gays whenever they can, John's deeply-held beliefs have become a liability.

At the same time, Jeanne Richardson's House 89 was sent to Knox County, as her record for standing up for women, minorities and human rights put her at odds with the GOP and male-dominated legislature.  Yeah, I know Beth Harwell is Speaker of the House; she's still a Gooper FIRST.  Jeanne was encouraged by many of her Midtown supporters to run against Deberry, and after deept thoughts and discussions with Deberry, decided to run for House 90.

I hate to see two friends run against each other, but at the end of the day, women, minorities, and everyone who's not white, male and right-wing need all the help they can get in this legislature, and Jeanne will continue to fight for them if she wins the nomination on August 2.  I am supporting her, and encouraging all who live in that district to do so as well.  We need her there, just as we need Beverly.

Your mileage may vary, but please think before you vote.

This is the 2012 equivalent of LBJ's "Daisy" ad in 1964

And this shows why Obama will win with over 300 electoral votes: