The Nollner-Mulroy Debate: Activists Scrap Over Election Machines

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bcbb/1246123652-optical-scan_voting2.jpgNote: The Tennessee Voter’s Confidence Act, passed in 2008 and requiring the use of optical-scan voting — a process whereby marks made on paper ballots are scanned electronically, with a resultant “paper trail” — survived a last-minute legislative attempt this year to delay its scheduled 2010 implementation.

There remains the issue of implementing the act locally — a point discussed at the June 25 meeting of the Shelby County Election Commission. What follows is a report on that meeting from Dee Nollner, a former president of the League of Women Voters and Shelby County who was acting entirely as a private citizen, addressed to her email network, interspersed with later written responses from Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy. Both Nollner and Mulroy were in attendance at the SCEC meeting.


NOLLNER:

…Clarification - re Commissioner Mulroy's visit to SCEC [Shelby County Election Commission] on June 25, 2009:

Replacing the voting machines in Shelby County with paper ballots to be counted by optical scan will depend upon a ruling of the law by the State Coordinator of Elections and the State Election Commission. There are two major hurdles remaining:

1.The law passed in 2008 stipulates that optical scan machines must meet 2005 standards. Currently there are no machines meeting those standards….



MULROY
:

Actually, that supposed "stipulation" is a matter of interpretation. The law actually says "applicable voluntary voting system guidelines," a term of art which might mean several things,

I am not so sure that a "ruling" by the state coordinator of elections would be the final word here, since the statutory language makes crystal clear that "in-precinct optical scan" systems of some form or other must be in place by November 2010.

Hopefully, we will not need to split hairs on this, and the Coordinator of Elections will make prompt and diligent efforts to get Optiscan in place by 2010 as the law requires.


NOLLNER:

…Machines used in Pittman and Hamilton Counties in Tennessee are certified to 2002 standards.

It was reported on the Senate floor on June 18,2009 that the EAC is not accepting certification applications for 2002 standards.

2. Both commissioners quoted in the CA article today, said the commission would follow the law, whatever that turns out to be….


MULROY:

The problem is one of timing. If the local Election Commission were to do no preparations for implementation until all legal uncertainties were resolved, and wait until the state division of elections, which fought 2010 implementation, did everything it needed to do, we might find that implementation by the state legislature's deadline is imperiled.

My argument was that the local election commission should do all it can now to be ready, and not put implementation preparations on hold, as they decided to do this past year.

All Shelby election commissioners publicly pledged to do this, which is welcome.



NOLLNER
:
…3. Commissioner Mulroy indicated that he was not familiar with the final arguments on the Senate floor June 18, regarding the referenced bill, but seemed to be advising upon his own interpretations of that law….


MULROY:
Commissioner Mulroy most certainly did not so indicate. In a rushed private conversation between Nollner and Mulroy occurring while I was trying to pay attention to the ongoing Election Commission proceedings, Ms. Nollner showed me a url for the video feed of that floor debate, a url with which I was unfamiliar.

However, I have had extensive conversations with multiple individuals who were present at and/or directly involved in that day's floor debate. As for "advising on my own interpretations of that law"—as I indicated to the election commission, I have done significant legal research on this issue, and am advising based on that.

Ms.Nollner in her email… is giving her own interpretation of the law, which she is free to do, as long as she acknowledges it as such (as I have).


NOLLNER:

…Another commissioner asked Commissioner. Mulroy if he was "suggesting that the SCEC spend the public's money on non-certified machines?" Upon which Commissioner Mulroy pledged to work 150% for the procurement of needed monies to cover the switch to paper ballots.

MULROY:

It would probably be helpful to you all in evaluating all of this to know that Ms. Nollner from day one has been a vociferous opponent of the switch to optical scan with a paper trail. This may potentially color her judgment in reporting events like this, as my own passionate advocacy for a paper trail may admittedly color mine. Make sure you know where each of us is coming from as you evaluate these reports.

Also, Ms. Nollner did not consult with me about her intention to report that I was unfamiliar with the floor debate, or to imply that I was advising based on a
possibly incorrect interpretation of the law If so I would have been able to clarify some things for her As it is, I frankly feel a little blindsided by this report, which did not go to me. I am grateful to those who passed it along to me, and grateful for a chance to correct the record.

If the SSDC [Shelby County Democratic Committee] has any questions on this, they can of course speak to me or Ms. Nollner. Better yet, you can bypass the advocates on both sides and talk to democratic election commissioner Shep Wilbun, who is very knowledgeable on this issue, or Myra Stiles.

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