Following a push to promote confidence in the election system, Nashville voters are using new voting machines to cast their votes in the August 1, 2019 Metro election. The purpose of the change was to enhance election integrity by giving voters a paper printout of their ballot choices that can be used to verify selections made on an electronic voting machine and to conduct a hand recount, if necessary. The rollout, however, has not gone as planned.
Earlier today, decorated News Channel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams announced on Twitter that during the process of scanning his marked ballot, a poll worker had stared at it and was able to determine how he had voted, and that his wife had experienced the same issue:
My wife and I both had the same horrified reaction yesterday when we voted early in the Nashville election. The new system prints out your votes, then an election worker helps feed them into the scanner. In both cases, she was actually staring down at how we voted. Stop it NOW!— Phil Williams (@NC5PhilWilliams) July 21, 2019
You feed it into the scanner face-up, and there was an election worker standing right by the machine. In both our cases, she looked right down at the ballot as it was being fed into the machine.— Phil Williams (@NC5PhilWilliams) July 21, 2019
Thereafter, multiple other voters chimed in to report having the same experience. The issue—which appears to be due in large part to untrained or poorly trained poll workers who missed instructions that marked ballots are not to be touched and should be scanned by voters facedown—seriously compromises the secret ballot, prompting election advocacy group Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws to issue a litigation threat to the Davidson County Election Commission:
The letter, in full, reads as follows:
TSEL STATEMENT ON NASHVILLE POLL WORKERS VIEWING VOTERS’ MARKED BALLOTS
Following reports from News Channel 5’s Phil Williams and other voters that poll workers in Davidson County, Tennessee have been viewing voters’ marked ballots while voters were feeding them into scanners, Daniel A. Horwitz, General Counsel for Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws,issued the following statement:
“Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws is deeply concerned about reports that Davidson County poll workers have been viewing individual voters’ marked ballots as they were being fed into scanners. It should not even be possible for such a scenario to occur, much less actually occur in practice.
The secret ballot is critical to maintaining the integrity of Tennessee’s election process. Ballot secrecy prevents illicit tactics like vote-buying and ensures that voters will be comfortable voting for whomever they please without fear of retaliation or intimidation. Simply put: The secret ballot is essential in order to maintain both confidence in and the security of Tennessee’s entire election process.
To protect the secret ballot, Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-9-101(a) provides that: “A voting machine to be used in Tennessee . . . must ensure voting in absolute secrecy.” Further, under Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-3-108(b)(1), paper ballots must be administered and arranged in such a way “that it is impossible for any person to see a voter’s ballot while it is being marked.”
Reports by Phil Williams and others that their marked ballots were viewed by poll workers while their votes were being counted make clear that Davidson County’s new voting process does not comply with applicable ballot secrecy mandates. As a consequence, Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws demands that the Davidson County Election Commission take immediate action to ensure that all marked ballots are fed into scanners facing down and that poll workers are unable to view them under any circumstances. Any election official who attempts to view a voter’s marked ballot must be terminated. If the Davidson County Election Commission does not take immediate action to maintain legally-mandated ballot secrecy, we will take legal action yet again to protect Tennessee’s democratic process.”
Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws is a nonpartisan group of concerned citizens who care about protecting Tennessee’s democratic process. Its mission is to ensure that Tennessee’s election and campaign finance statutes, policies, and regulations protect all Tennesseans’ rights to participate in the political process without unreasonable interference from the state government. Learn more at tn4sense.org.
Paid for by Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws. David M. Morelli, Jr., Treasurer. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee, but we don’t think it should be a crime not to tell you that.