Cohen's Call for DOJ Probe of Voting Snafu Climaxes First Protest Meeting

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Democratic chairman Turner convenes meeting to protest election results in presence of several affected candidates.
  • JB
  • Democratic chairman Turner convenes meeting to protest election results in presence of several affected candidates.

UPDATE on goings-on at EC and the legal/political standoff coming later Friday.

Steve Cohen is discovering the full ramifications of what it entails to be the Last Man Standing — i.e., titular party leader — in the local Democratic hierarchy.

At a Monday night meeting at the IBEW Hall on Madison, called to vent complaints about the conduct and outcome of the just-concluded county-wide election, there was a little grousing going on in the side aisles about an interview with the 9th District congressman reported that morning in The Commercial Appeal.

Some of the attendees took the freshly renominated 9th District congressman to be distancing himself from the grievances of defeated Democratic candidates for county office and washing his hands of the developing imbroglio over a suspect vote count, which stemmed from a systemic voting-machine glitch that raised obstacles to significant numbers of would-be voters.

That Cohen was not off the case was made evident, just minutes before the adjournment of that meeting — the first, it would seem, of a series that will be scheduled — when LaSimba Gray, one of several ad hoc spokespersons for the protest, made a dramatic announcement.

Congressman Cohen, he said, had asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct a formal investigation into “irregularities” in the election. That was a follow-through on a thought expressed by Cohen early on election day, August 5, when the first reports surfaced of voters being prevented from voting because of erroneous electronic information that they had already cast ballots during the early-voting period.

Cohen’s request of Holder would shortly indicate the nature of the rock and hard place the congressman now found himself having to thread. Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini posted this note on his Facebook page Wednesday night:

"Stefano Coheno"- Latin for HORSES ASS

Giannini’s remark was itself protested by Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, who suggested it showed “a lack of impartiality.” Giannini responded, "My reference was to a fictional character. As far as Cohen himself is concerned, he had every right to ask for a Department of Justice investigation, though I wish he had waited to see the results of the TBI investigation that we got started."

Giannini and Election Commission director Rich Holden had, early in the controversy, owned up to the fact that early-voting information from a previous election period — the May countywide primaries, held earlier this year — had been fed into the electronic voting roll by error. Although Holden and Giannini said the glitch had been fixed within an hour or two and estimated the number of inconvenienced voters at a scant few hundred, other opinions were decidedly different.

Democratic complainants, both defeated candidates and their supporters, said that, at minimum, there were some 5300 voters who early-voted in May and did not do so for the August 5 general election, establishing a numerical baseline larger than the margin of defeat for several of the candidates. Some Democrats were even maintaining that the number of potentially compromised votes was larger, up to 30,000. That supposition was apparently based on the theory the erroneous early-voting information had actually been from a 2008 election period.

Monday night’s meeting, called by Democratic Party chairman Van Turner, drew several hundred people, in whose ranks were several of the defeated candidates who have challenged either the accuracy or the bona fides of the election process.

Turner called for those who had experienced difficulties in casting ballots on August 5 to fill out affidavits attesting to the nature of their difficulties, the locations of their precincts, and the circumstances of their prior votes this year, along with other information. “We have to have proof,” he said. “We can’t just go into court, can’t go into a proceeding and say, ‘It happened, Judge, believe me.’” Copies of an affidavit form were subsequently passed out to everyone present.

Turner would make the point, buttressed by testimony from others who addressed the crowd, that, contrary to Election Commission officials’ claims, the obstacles to voting were not cleared up right away but persisted for several hours. (Cited to support the clam of difficulties later on election day were the cases of District Attorney General Bill Gibbons — who, ironically, had been asked by the Election Commission to investigate the election and in turn called in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and Trustee Regina Morrison Newman, who testified as to her experience.)

Questions were raised about whether full provisional ballots were offered to voters improperly blocked from voting or, alternatively, whether such voters were asked to sign “fail-safe” affidavits, which would have allowed them to vote, pending further validation of their eligibility. Affidavits from those who had witnessed voter problems but had not themselves experienced them were also solicited as “eye-witness” testimony.

“We’re going to war. We need ammunition,” said Gray.

A voter named Daryl Lewis was among several who addressed the crowd. Lewis testified about his own difficulties and saud “A lot of people were turned away. A lot of our young people were turned away.” Another, Terrence Palmer, told the story of a deputy sheriff who lacked the time to pursue one of the available alternative processes had to leave without voting. “That happened over and over again,” he said.

Newman told attendees that she and others had received reports of people turned away who had not voted early in May, suggesting that the glitch was more all-encompassing than previously thought. She also told of voters requesting Democratic primary ballots and receiving Republican primary ballots instead.

Lexie Carter, who functioned as an election, inspector, said poll officials had been given improper guidance as to how to handle the problems that came up and in one case may have responded to an issue by wiping out the record of votes tallied to that point.

Another testifier was Geraldine Wade, sister-in-law to Sheriff’s candidate Randy Wade, another of the defeated Democrats. She had been one of those last Thursday who had first made public the difficulties facing voters.

Yet another, Raymond Suggs, said he had counted at least “80 to 87” voters who had been inconvenienced at his polling place.

Former Election Commissioner Shep Wilbun, who also was one of the defeated candidates, having run as the Democratic nominee for Juvenile Court Clerk, raised issues about the continued use of Diebold voting machines, pointing out that state Election officials — who were Republican appointees after the 2008 election — had prevailed on the GOP-controlled legislature to reverse an earlier legislative mandate to replace the machines with optical-scan voting machines that had paper-trail capability.

“These {the Diebold machines] are the same machines that we continue to have problems with, all the time…This is a machine that, when you vote on it, no one knows what happened,” Wilbun said. (Giannini would respond to that by saying, "I remain convinced that our current electronic method of voting better serves the public than a paper-ballot system would.")

These and possibly other issues relating to the voting controversy will be revisited Friday, when a follow-up meeting is held at 3 p.m. at the ASFSCME/MLK Center at Danny Thomas and Beale.

Meanwhile, the TPI investigation is rumored to be reaching completion.

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