At a meeting of the Shelby County Election Commisson Monday that had to be excruciatingly painful for SCEC administrator Rich Holden, the two minority Democrats on the Commission called for Holden’s firing and for more Commission oversight on procedural reforms.
Holden, who for the most part kept his head down stoically and scribbled away on a note pad throughout a prolonged assault from Commissioners Norma Lester and George Monger (and earlier from audience member Jo Lynne Palmer), was rescued from immediate danger by the three majority Republicans on the Commission, but indications were that even they were merely biding their time, pending receipt of a report on the local situation from state election authorities.
Before any member of the Commission had even weighed in, however, Palmer, an experienced local thespian, delivered herself of some royal fustian: “I believe this Republican-dominated Election Commission , due to redistricting and deliberate misdirection, has denied the right of many registered voters in Shelby County….Exactly who is the Republican Party trying to “give America back” to? It looks like just the rich white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male ….And if that is the case, Mr. Holden, I say to you, by paraphrasing Charlton Heston…you will have to pry this voter registration card from my cold dead hand.”
Commissioners themselves got into the act later on , after some relatively uneventful discussions about adding the category “Hispanic” as a racial classification to voter registration forms, the establishment of filing and withdrawal deadline for the November 7 election, and, finally, the certification of the August 2 election results. That last issue, especially, went down unexpectedly smooth, but the tension level in the room had risen almost palpably.
It began to simmer and finally explode when chairman Robert Meyers referred to his recent decision to have the Commission’s database and general operations reviewed by “outside vendors” (from ESS, the Election Systems and Software Company, proprietors these days of Diebold election machinery). That, as everyone knew, was a step prompted by the sequential glitches that have plagued Commission efforts, most embarrassingly the fact of some 3,000 voters having received erroneous ballots for the August 2 election.
The vendor matter conflated into further heated discussions regarding ongoing investigations by state officials of SCEC ‘s serial problems. Both Monger and Lester complained that “the administratior” had attempted to blame everyone but himself for the problems (“the slave hands,” as Monger put it). They asked for a vote on a resolution to give the Commission per se, rather than Holden or other administrative figures, authority for overseeing and approving reforms, procedures, and internal modifications.
That resolution failed on a party-line vote, but it was followed by an even stronger one from Lester asking for the resignation of Holden. This, too, would fail by the same 2-3 vote. But, tellingly, GOP commissioner Steve Stamson made a point of noting that his vote came down to a matter of waiting on the completion of an official audit of the Commission’s efforts by the state Comptroller’s office . He would say later that, pending it, he was keeping “an open mind” on issues regarding the administration of the Commission.
Lester said she was contemplating writing a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice it to intervene. .. Monger cited what he said was a pattern of disrespect for “the Election Commission and the Board under this administration, “and Meyers was kept busy denying that the Election Commission administration had “misled” the public or state authorities about responsibility for the spate of problems or that it had tried to pass the blame onto the commissioners.
On the latter point, Lester pointed out that the SCEC board had not been informed of important decisions — such as the fateful decision to delay precinct assignments , pending County Commission reapportionment — much less had it approved them.
A final point of dispute came when Meyers announced his intention to hire a management consultant group, Caissa Public Strategies, whose proprietor is former Republican election commissioner Brian Stephens. The Democratic members suggested that consultancy should be bid out instead, and the matter was deferred until the Commission’s September meeting.