The good news first: “I think we’ve got a 2005-quality machine,” Hargett said in Memphis Tuesday night. Meaning that an optical-scan voting apparatus with paper-trail capability would soon be available in enough quantity to conduct statewide elections in 2010.
“Maybe two months,” said former Bartlett state representative Hargett, who was in town to address the annual Master Meal of the East Shelby Republican Club, along with Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and state Treasurer David Lillard.
Hargett would go on to identify the apparatus in question as one about to be marketed by Unisyn Voting Solutions, a California-based company. Assuming Hargett’s estimates of availability to be accurate, the existence of the Unisyn device would seem to allay one of the Secretary’s persistent doubts about being able to implement the TVCA in 2010.
Hargett and other skeptics had questioned whether machines meeting 2005 standards of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission would be available in time to meet the 2010 deadlines imposed when the authorizing legislation for TVCA was passed in 2008. He and state Election Coordinator Mark Goins had been reluctant to fall back on the 2002-vintage machines that Nashville Chancellor Russell Perkins recently ruled would be adequate to the task.
“But this has always been about the cost to the various counties,” said Hargett, keeping to the second focal point of his resistance to immediate implementation of TVCA — that many of the 93 Tennessee counties currently not employing optical-scan devices would be forced to appropriate ruinously large expenditures to retrofit, amounting to some $11 million statewide — this despite the availability to the state of some $25 million in federal funds for the purpose, provided under HAVA (the Help America Vote Act of 2002).
“The real question is if there are other costs required of the counties. We can purchase the machines, but that’s all we can do,” Hargett would say in his remarks to the GOP audience, implying the existence of other logistical expenses beyond the federal funds available, but not elaborating.
And now the bad news for TVCA advocates: Hargett as much as said that the Act’s chances in 2010 ranged from dubious to nil. He noted that in the waning days of the 2009 legislative session, a measure to delay implementation of TVCA passed the state House and failed of passage by only one vote in the state Senate, largely due to absences of key senators.
“I understand that the Senate is going to go back in January and take the necessary steps to protect the taxpayers, throughout the state,” Hargett said. “But we’re going to be prepared to implement that law, no matter what.” In his remarks to the Master Meal audience, he did not mention the imminence of the Unisyn machines but said the state was prepared to lease 2002-vintage machines, if necessary.
Acknowledging that the TVCA issue had settled into a partisan battle, with Democrats pushing for immediate implementation and Republicans including himself predominating in the opposition, Hargett attempted some irony, noting that the voting machines in the 93 Tennessee counties without them had been purchased by Democratic election commissions under a system of Democratic election administrators. (Until the Republicans acquired a legislative majority in both houses in the 2008 statewide elections, all county commissions were dominated by Democrats under state law.)
“Either they think that I’m gong to take these election machines that they were honest with and steal elections. Or they’re telling me that they were stealing elections, and now I’m gong to turn around and do the same,” Hargett said.