Tennessee: Welcome to the Machine: Fight Over Shelby County Voting System Raises Issues of Integrity and Nepotism | Jackson Baker/Memphis Flyer

Are the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County — troubled with decades of problematic and even botched election results — really about to acquire a new, improved means of expressing their will in the forthcoming August and November election rounds? That question may be answered this week, as the Shelby County Commission decides whether to accept or overrule the judgment last week of Election Administrator Linda Phillips and the Shelby County Election Commission (SCEC) — apparently in favor of ballot-marking devices marketed by the ES&S Company, a monolith of the election-machine industry. The name of the chosen manufacturer was not explicitly revealed last week — “Company 1,” was how it was called in discussion — but several references by Phillips to the “thermal paper” uniquely employed by ES&S for production of machine receipts, were something of a giveaway. The Shelby County Commission, which has the responsibility of paying for the machines (or not), had voted twice previously in favor of hand-marked ballots instead, on several grounds, including cost, transparency, and invulnerability to ballot-hacking. And an aroused contingent of local activists, abetted by a network of nationally known election adepts, is prepared to insist on that choice.

Tennessee: Shelby County Election Commission approves new voting system | Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian

Shelby County election commissioners approved a new voting system for Shelby County Thursday night, May 7, that will include machines with a paper audit trail. The 4-1 vote came at the end of a 4.5-hour special meeting that all five election commissioners attended in person at their operations center at Shelby County, along with staff, as an online audience watched and commented. On the advice of its attorneys, the election commission did not disclose the name of the vendor or the cost of their proposal. The attorneys and county purchasing officials said the commission couldn’t disclose any of the information until after it made its decision and a formal letter of intent was issued. It was one of three proposals made in the formal “request for proposal” process and the one that county elections administrator Linda Phillips recommended. The decision goes next to the Shelby County Commission, which will vote on appropriating the funding necessary to buy the machines. That is when the details of the proposal, including the name of the company and the price as well as the offers of competitors, are to become public. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has questioned whether the secrecy surrounding what the election commission voted on is a violation of the state’s open meetings law.

Tennessee: Shelby County Election Commission meets Thursday on new voting system | Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian

Shelby County Election Commissioners will meet Thursday, May 7, online to discuss and possibly select a new voting system for the county. The 5 p.m. meeting will be via Webinar despite calls by several election commissioners at their last meeting, April 23, to have an in-person meeting with social distancing precautions instead of online. The election commission has fielded several proposals from vendors in a request for proposal — or RFP — process. But the election commission has not disclosed those proposals or the proposed costs of the systems, saying they cannot until they make a selection. Commissioners reviewed the proposals at a closed April 23 meeting before a public session. The plan is for commissioners to discuss in public the different proposals without identifying the vendors or discussing the price and then voting in public.

Pennsylvania: Paper ballots at Crawford County polling places for June 2 election | Keith Gushard/Meadville Tribune

It will be paper ballots at Crawford County’s polling precincts during Pennsylvania’s primary election, now scheduled for June 2. Crawford County Board of Elections members voted unanimously Wednesday to move a paper ballot format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The switch will allow for a less potential spread of the virus than using the electronic voting machines, according to board members. The electronic voting machines would require cleaning of touch screens after each use by a voter which could slow the process. However, each of the county’s 68 precincts still will have an electronic voting machine to comply with federal handicapped-accessibility laws, said Rebecca Little, director of the county’s Election and Voter Services Office.

Tennessee: Path to new voting machines for Shelby County still complex, secretive | Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian

The route to choosing new voting machines in Shelby County remains complex and secretive. The latest scenario would obscure key details of the bids from the companies that want the contract with county government before the Shelby County Election Commission makes its decision. That includes the price the county would pay. County purchasing officials have said the proposals the commission will consider cannot be made public until the commission decides and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris signs a letter of intent with that company. In other words, the details of the proposal and the cost in taxpayer dollars cannot be made public until after the decision is made by the advice of attorneys to the five-member board. Election Commissioner Brent Taylor says attorneys for the election commission agree that state law forbids making the details public. But Taylor says the panel may be able to discuss details in public short of the prices by not naming the companies. “I don’t particularly like that, but I’ve become convinced that state law does not allow the release of that information prior to the mayor signing that letter,” Taylor said on The Daily Memphian Politics podcast.

Tennessee: Public concern over Shelby County election commission’s vote for new equipment | April Thompson/WREG

There is growing concern over how much input the public will have on the Shelby County Election Commission’s decision to buy new equipment to process paper ballots faster. Shelby County Election Administrator Linda Phillips says the county needs to be ahead of the curve and they need to be ready as the state is looking to expand paper ballot voting. “It’s very crucial that we replace our voting equipment. We have a very tight time deadline,” Phillips said. “We have to start mailing out absentee ballots for the August election in June.” However, some people fear public input on the matter will be hampered if the commission comes to a vote at its virtual meeting Wednesday. Grassroots advocate Steve Mulroy said the Shelby County Election Commission will choose from a list of proposals but the public has not had a chance to see any of them. “…They are offering us a chance to do public comments before they do their decision,” Mulroy said. “But, it won’t be informed public comment because we will be blind and won’t have any information on what they are choosing from.”

Tennessee: More Voting Machines Controversy in Shelby County | Jackson Baker/Memphis Flyer

Among the potential local casualties of the coronavirus, there is an unexpected one — the democratic process itself. At this week’s scheduled virtual meeting of the Shelby County Election Commission, the five Commissioners —three Republicans and two Democrats, in conformity with state regulations regarding majority party/minority party ratios — are primed to vote on Election Administrator Linda Phillips’ recommendations for new voting machines. Phillips has declared that the members of the Election Commission must take a definitive up-or-down vote on the vendor, whom she will recommend from among those manufacturers who responded to an RFP (request for proposal) issued earlier by the SCEC. She has declared that the decision must come now so that the machines can be in use for August voting in the county. For years, and for the last several months in particular, controversy has raged between activists who insist on voting machines that permit voter-marked ballots and advocates of machine-marked ballots. Phillips herself has expressed a preference for the latter type, equipped with paper-trail capability. By a narrow, party-line vote, the majority-Democratic Shelby County Commission, which must approve funding for the purchase, has expressed its own preference for hand-marked ballots. Given the fact that Phillips’ choice of machine type is more or less predictable, and that the cost factor will be built into the selection of vendor, that will put the County Commissioners in an awkward position of having to rubber-stamp whatever choice the SCEC passes on to them.

Georgia: State Tells Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections Not to Use Paper Ballots | Flagpole

Earlier this month, the ACC Board of Elections ordered staff to switch from the new Ballot Marking Device (BMD) voting machines to paper ballots. This was a controversial 3-2 vote, with Chair Jesse Evans, Willa Fambrough and new member Rocky Raffle voting in favor, and Charles Knapper and Patricia Till voting against. While some people strongly prefer paper ballots because of election security, the reasoning given by board members was instead about voters’ constitutional right to ballot privacy. Paper ballots make this easier to do; inexpensive manila folders suffice to shield voter’s choices from view, which were used in Athens over the past week. Nevertheless, the decision was controversial. The ACC GOP even circulated a petition to have Evans removed from his position. The board was advised against this action by County Attorney Judd Drake and by Director of Elections Charlotte Sosebee. In Drake’s opinion, it would be very difficult to prove that it was “impossible or impracticable” for Athens to use BMDs as required by state law. Elections in Georgia are done in a uniform manner—counties aren’t free to choose their voting method in this state.

Tennessee: ‘Complex’ process ahead for new Shelby County voting machines | Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian

The Shelby County Election Commission is working toward a debut of new voting machines when early voting begins in July for the Aug. 6 election, but the commission still must select a  specific system. “The process is winding its way through purchasing. It’s a pretty complex project. It has many moving parts,” Shelby County elections administrator Linda Phillips said on The Daily Memphian Politics Podcast. “We can’t get the new machines until we have a place to put the old machines and get rid of them,” she said. “In moving to paper, we then have to have secure storage. So there have to be modifications to our warehouse. There are a lot of moving parts to this project, and we are doing it as fast as we can.” Whatever system the commission picks will involve the use of paper ballots in some way – either paper ballots that are marked by the voter or a printout of choices a voter makes on updated touchscreen machines. In both cases, the paper ballots would be run through a digital scanner and go into a ballot box as an audit trail.

Georgia: State election board requires touchscreen voting in Athens-Clarke County | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The State Election Board on Wednesday unanimously ordered Athens-Clarke County to immediately switch back to Georgia’s touchscreen voting system, a rebuke of its decision to use paper ballots filled out by hand. The board, led by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, found that voters’ right to a secret ballot can be protected on the state’s new $104 million voting system, which combines touchscreens and printers to create paper ballots.“There are reasonable concerns about ballot secrecy in some limited number of precincts,” said David Worley, a member of the State Election Board. “The reasonable way to deal with that is not to make a wholesale change.” State election officials said voter privacy can be protected by turning large, bright touchscreens so they face walls instead of voters. The Athens-Clarke County Elections Board last week rejected the touchscreens, deciding on a 3-2 vote that they exposed voters choices to their neighbors. It was the only county in the state that had attempted to use hand-marked paper ballots. More than 100 supporters of hand-marked paper ballots packed the seven-hour emergency hearing Wednesday, wearing stickers saying “Protect the Secret Ballot.”

Georgia: Athens-Clarke County punished for ditching voting machines | Kate Brumback/Associated Press

Georgia’s State Election Board voted on Wednesday to punish election officials in one county for their decision not to use the state’s new voting machines for the presidential primary, and it ordered them to immediately start using the machines again. The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections voted 3-2 last week to sideline the new machines in favor of hand-marked paper ballots, citing concerns over protecting ballot secrecy when using the machines with large, bright touchscreens that sit upright. Board Chairman Jesse Evans said it was “impracticable” when using the new machines to protect ballot secrecy and allow sufficient monitoring to prevent tampering as required by state law. The State Election Board, chaired by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, unanimously ordered the county to cease and desist and to pay a fine of $2,500 for investigative costs, plus $5,000 a day until the machines are back in place. County elections director Charlotte Sosebee said she could have the machines back up by Thursday for a continuation of early voting. Evans said he was disappointed with the state board’s decision and that he would talk to the board and its attorneys to determine next steps.

Georgia: Athens-Clarke County broke law by pulling machines, SOS says | Doug Richards/WXIA

The state election board is challenging a decision in Athens to set aside the state’s new voting system in favor of hand-marked paper ballots. The state board posted its intention to meet in Athens Wednesday, March 11 to get an explanation from local election board members who dumped the state’s new voting system and began allowing early voters to cast hand-marked paper ballots. The board withdrew the large, bright electronic ballot-marking devices Tuesday, following concerns about whether voters’ ballots were sufficiently concealed from people inside the precinct. The state election board, posting a meeting notice on the Secretary of State’s website, cited four Georgia laws that the local board may have violated by withdrawing the voting machines. The election board is chaired by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who selected the Dominion voting system amid a flurry of sometimes-partisan controversy over whether the electronic system was susceptible to hacking. Critics of the selection contended hand-marked paper ballots were the only way to avoid electronic election hacking. The state bought 33,000 of the machines last year, at a cost of more than $100 million. The state delivered the last of them to Georgia’s 159 counties Feb. 14.

Maine: High voter turnout drives long lines; some towns forced to photocopy ballots after running low | WMTW

Maine’s top election official said turnout in the presidential primary election was heavier than expected on Super Tuesday. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said he’d projected turnout of 15 percent Tuesday, but final turnout will surpass that projection. Long lines were reported across the state, particularly Tuesday evening after people got out of work. Some towns had to get permission from the Secretary of State’s Office to print photocopies of ballots after running low.

If you hear your town is running low on ballots, no worries- we are granting permission to municipalities (upon request) to photocopy ballots as needed. They’ll be hand-counted, as tabulators cannot process them. Be assured: You will receive a ballot and it will be counted!

— MaineSOS (@MESecOfState) March 4, 2020

The law allows Dunlap to certify more copies being made in order to ensure everyone can vote.

North Carolina: How did Guilford’s new voting system work? | Taft Wireback/Greensboro News Record

The votes are in, and Guilford County’s new system of hand-marked, paper ballots came through its first, full-fledged test without any major snags. Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said the new equipment worked well in Tuesday’s primary and voters adapted successfully to the shift away from touchscreen voting to paper ballots. “There was some apprehension early in the process because it is something different from what you’ve been doing for the last 15 years,” Collicutt said Wednesday. Voters came out for Tuesday’s primary in robust, if not record numbers: 112,728 cast ballots, or about 31% of the county’s registered voters, Collicutt said. That’s 5% below turnout for the last presidential primary in 2016 when 122,897 voters participated, he said. Once voting got under way Tuesday, the only significant drawback came from delays by state government’s computer system in displaying Guilford’s results online, Collicutt said. “The big issue was how slow the state’s website was,” he said. “The upload was so slow.” Guilford County spent about $2 million for its new voting equipment to comply with changes in state law that require systems to leave a better paper trail than the touchscreen terminals Guilford had been using for years. The new system relies on printed, multiple-choice ballots that voters fill out in ink and feed into a tabulator at their precincts.