Say this for Shelby County Administrator of Elections Rich Holden, often accused by his critics of being brusque and unresponsive: He was the soul of patience, candor, and good humor on Wednesday as, in conjunction with a pending post-election appeal by County Commission candidate Martavius Jones, he conducted a tutorial on the process of collecting, safeguarding, and disseminating votes in an election.
At the end of it all, which would culminate with the certification of all the May 6 election results by the Shelby County Election Commission later Wednesday afternoon, Jones still seemed ready to appeal the outcome of the May 6 Democratic primary for County Commission District 10, in which he had initially been reported the loser to Reginald Milton by 26 votes.
But Jones was no longer contending that he had received the same number of votes as Milton, as he had last week when he convinced the Shelby County Democratic Party’s primary board to intercede with the Election Commission on his behalf.
To be sure, Jones had — in the consensus of those present for the tutorial, including representatives of the party, the Commission, the media, and Milton — gained a vote. That came from the opening and recording of the one allowable provisional ballot that was cast in District 10. (Provisional votes are those cast, on special paper ballots, by citizens whose credentials cannot be immediately established on election day.)
But Jones still faced an apparent deficit of 25 votes vis-à-vis Milton, who was not present on Wednesday but was represented by attorney Charles Higgins. The mystery of differing vote totals —between the initially reported unofficial count and that which Jones had demonstrated last week with photostats of the tape printouts posted at each precinct location — had been resolved.
The tapes publicly posted at two precincts — 29-02 (Hanley) and 31-02 (Rozelle) — had not involved all of the machines which had been used at those locations, and as a result Jones had ended up with misleadingly incomplete photostats adding up to an apparent overall tie with Milton.
Vote totals accurate; tally sheets not
The sealed machines used at Hanley and Rozelle were reopened Wednesday by election coordinator Albert Holmes, in the presence of the gathered observers, and new tapes were printed from them showing vote totals that accorded precisely with what had been unofficially reported by the Commission on election night.
One glitch remained, however. While tapes (“duplicate tally sheets” in official lingo) from all the Hanley machines were located in the Commission archives Wednesday, those from Rozelle weren’t — apparently due to an oversight by the four official pollworkers at Rozelle, who had signed and turned in a tally sheet reflecting the votes of only one of the four machines used at that location. This was the same tape that Jones had made a copy of to reach the totals he arrived at.
The discrepancy would appear to be only technical, Jones acknowledged, since the correct totals from all four machines at Rozelle had been included in the overall unofficial vote tally initially reported by the Election Commission. But he cited a provision of the state election code (#2-7-132) that includes this language: “The duplicate tally sheets shall be certified correct and signed by each judge and by the officer of elections and shall be placed in the poll books.”
The failure of this technical part of the vote-reporting process will now become the basis of an official challenge to the election outcome by Jones, especially since, as he noted, if the votes are discounted from the three machines at Rozelle that weren’t on the tally sheets signed by the pollworkers, he would lead Milton in District 10 overall by some 35 votes.
And so the controversy goes on, to be resolved — as was pointed out at the later Election Commission meeting — by the state Democratic Party primary board.
In any case, the May 6 election results, including that for District 10, have now been certified by the five-member Election Commission by a vote of four ayes (Republicans Steve Stamson, Dee Nollner, and chairman Robert Meyers and Democrat Anthony Tate), with one abstention by Democrat Norma Lester, who professed dissatisfaction with the prior briefings she and other Commissioners had received.
Election Commission employees now "at will"
Meanwhile, though, another issue of potentially greater significance, long-term, surfaced at the Election Commission meeting, stemming from a report to the Commission by assistant County Attorney Kim Koratsky that Election Commission employees, heretofore regarded as employees of Shelby County and subject to civil service guidelines, should legally be seen as employees of the Election Commission, a state-enabled agency.
The key point of Koratsky’s findings is that Election Commission employees, lacking civil service status, are “at-will” employees — meaning, it would seem, that their job security is at the discretion of the Election Administrator (Holden) or of the Commission itself.
The point is relevant to Holden’s frequently stated concern, in past moments of contention over election problems, that he has had limited control over the composition of the staff he administers. And it also prompted observer Derrick Harris, chairman of the local Democrats’ primary board, to express privately a concern that potential whistleblowers employed by the Commission might be cowed into silence with the knowledge of their at-will status.