Op/Ed: Tennessee needs paper trail for every vote
Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 8:01 pm
By: Sen. Roy Herron, Special to The Press
In 2008 the Tennessee legislature voted almost unanimously to make elections more secure, dependable and trustworthy by requiring a verifiable paper trail for each vote. The step was long overdue — more than 30 states already have such security measures.
But three years later, secure elections in Tennessee remain at risk and voters may never know if their votes are counted.
If legislative Republicans’ march toward passing a bill that would effectively repeal the Voter Confidence Act succeeds, it would be a devastating blow to democracy in Tennessee. The electronic voting machines used in 93 of our 95 counties are so vulnerable to fraud and thievery that they can steal your vote even before you cast your ballot.
The machines can be hacked at the factory, during transport or the night before an election. They can be manipulated during and after an election with simple tools like paper clips and telephone cords. A New York University task force found that “paperless touch-screen voting machines” like “those presently used in parts of Tennessee, are the least secure voting system” in the entire country.
During early voting in 2008, there were reports in Decatur County of so-called vote flipping. A New York Times editorial writers’ blog noted that at least three voters complained “(electronic) voting machines registered their votes for Mr. (John) McCain as votes for Mr. (Barack) Obama.”
In Arkansas, according to The New York Times, the mayor of Waldenburg discovered that these machines hadn’t registered a single vote for him in a 2006 election — not even his own.
In Cleveland, Ohio, the newspaper reported, poll workers in 2007 had to use a paper trail to correct three-fourths of the ballots cast on machines just like ours.
From Texas to Florida, from Iowa to New Jersey, these machines have proved time and again that they are the equivalent of an open vault door to the most valuable treasure we have in a democracy: our vote.
There is no legitimate reason to continue to place our trust in electronic voting machines that have proved wholly unreliable. Yet today, we are closer than ever to repealing the bipartisan legislation enacted to safeguard our elections from fraud and malfunction.
Opponents of the Voter Confidence Act will say that local governments cannot bear the burden of implementing these more secure voting machines. Such arguments are a smoke screen.
Tennessee received $52 million from the federal government in 2003 for the sole purpose of making our elections more secure. Yet eight years later, $27 million remains in the fund, but our elections remain subject to fraud.
This should not be a partisan issue. The original bill was passed unanimously in the Senate and virtually unanimously in the House. But after Republicans took control of the General Assembly and the state’s election commissions, suddenly the Republicans have reversed their position and now oppose Voter Confidence Act safeguards.
Several of our neighboring states, including North Carolina, Missouri and Alabama, use optical scan machines with a verifiable paper trail.
This is not an urban-rural issue. States like New York and California with big cities have them. Rural states like West Virginia, Idaho and the Dakotas have them.
Here in Tennessee, optical scan machines are used in a county as small as Pickett County and as large as Hamilton County, where officials told a state panel that they would highly recommend their machines.
We all have a stake in secure, legitimate elections. The strength of our political system lies in our citizens’ trust that their votes count. Our current, easily manipulated and too-fallible voting machines endanger that trust.
We have waited too long to do the right thing. The Voter Confidence Act should not be repealed or delayed.
State Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, represents Benton, Decatur, Henry, Henderson, Lake, Obion, Perry, Stewart and Weakley counties. Contact him at email@example.com or (615) 741-4576.