Optical Scan Voting "Insanity," Says Election Commission Head

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4154/1248182512-giannini_at_se_shelby2.jpgThe Voter Confidence Act passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2008 is a creation of “the liberal wing of the liberal party” and a “bad idea,” according to Bill Giannini, the chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission.

In particular, said Giannini in the course of remarks Monday night to members of the Southeast Shelby Republican Club at Perkins Restaurant on Germantown Parkway, “it would be insanity to go back to paper ballots.” As Giannini noted, the law mandates statewide voting in 2010 by optical scanning machines — a process in which paper ballots are read and tabulated electronically, with the originals maintained for possible recount purposes as a “paper trail.”

The paper costs by themselves would be “astronomical,” said Giannini, who argued further that to carry out the mandate next year requires state-of-the-art optical-scanning devices certified by both the state and federal governments and that” no such animal” exists.

Giannini, a former chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party, thus concurred with arguments made by state Election Coordinator Mark Goins and by Secretary of State Tre Hargett. Both are Republicans who ascended to their offices as a consequence of Republican victories in 2008 legislative races that gave the GOP a majority in both houses of the legislature.

The Voter Confidence Act has been stoutly defended by leading Democrats, including state House Majority Leader Gary Odom of Nashville and state Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester, who maintain that Republicans are using sham arguments to delay implementation of the Act.

Giannini contended that even the Democratic members of the local Election Commission agreed that to try to implement the act next year would be impractical, but he said the commission had” no choice but to comply” without emergency relief by the legislature.

The electronic voting machines now in use in Shelby County are acceptably accurate, argued Giannini, who maintained that to rig a vote with them would necessitate “a conspiracy of unbelievable magnitude.”

Another immediate concern of the local commission is to update voter rolls, which still contain the names of numerous deceased people, according to Giannini. He said there might be “forty or fifty thousand names” that shouldn’t be on the rolls for one reason or another.

Yet another priority is to create at least two new early voting sites in eastern Shelby County, Giannini said. He maintained that the current pattern of 12 “Democratic” sites and 6 “Republican” sites is inequitable.

Giannini also advocated stricter voter ID measure to prevent fraud, and called for Republican pollworkers to volunteer for deployment at inner-city precinct locations. He was optimistic that instant runoff voting, approved in a countywide referendum last year, could streamline elections and curtail expenses but said implementing such voting would not be feasible by next year.

On the big issue of the day, whether and when there will be a special election to succeed Mayor Willie Herenton, Giannini acknowledged that Herenton had apparently informed media people on Monday that he'd be leaving the office on July 30, but there was still a hitch.

"We can't do a thing until we get certification from the City Council of the minutes of their last meeting," he said. Giannini referred to the meeting two weeks ago at which the council officially declared a mayoral vacancy as of July 31. An effort to pass a "same-night minutes" resolution failed by one vote, however, and, as the Election Commission head said at the time, "that ties our hands."

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