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Voter Confidence Act

Rich Holden states in his Viewpoint (October 29th issue) that "the outcry from voters in favor of paper ballots is nonexistent." I am a voter, and I vigorously support the switch to optical scan paper ballots, as outlined in the Voter Confidence Act. Many of my friends also favor paper ballots, and we have fought hard for several years to have the current voting equipment replaced.

Machines like those used in our current touch-screen system have been abandoned in many areas nationally because of numerous well-documented security breaches. Federal money was made available to replace them in recognition of the countless problems encountered around the country. Optical scan systems have been tested and judged to be significantly more secure and accurate than the DREs. In addition, the optical scan system will provide a paper ballot so that voting results can be verified. A paperless voting system is not acceptable because there is no way to validate the vote totals.

The decision to improve the security of our voting system is not a partisan issue. The voting system we currently have is not secure and not acceptable. The Shelby County Election Commission should perform their duties in compliance with state laws and meet the established deadline for providing a voting system certified by the state.

Becki Barnhardt

As a member of the Shelby County Election Commission and its secretary, I felt compelled to write so that your readers do not think that Rich Holden was expressing the position of the Shelby County Election Commission. I'm sure each of the five county election commissioners has an opinion about the Voter Confidence Act, but the commission has not adopted an official position on the matter. The act is now state law, and the Shelby County Election Commission will abide by the law.

The Tennessee secretary of state, Tre Hargett, has stated that new voting machines to implement the law cannot be purchased because none of them have been certified to standards established in 2005. Common Cause of Tennessee and others, including local voting rights attorney Steve Mulroy, have filed suit in Nashville for a ruling to clarify the issue of the certification requirements of the act.

In the meantime, the Shelby County Election Commission will establish a timeline for the purchase and implementation of the new system. Any estimate of the costs is premature, since we have not yet begun the process.

As for the requirement for more than one machine per precinct, Hamilton County (Chattanooga) uses one optical scan machine per precinct with no problems or long lines. Ballot on Demand machines will be required for early voting, but they will probably not be needed at each precinct.

The ballots will be optically scanned at each precinct and the results tabulated by a computerized system, much like is done for the touch-screen machines now in use. But the difference — and it is huge — is that the paper ballots provide a concrete paper trail for backup and audit. That's the whole point of the change in voting systems.

As one election commissioner, I look forward to guidance from the court on the remaining issues of the Voter Confidence Act, so that we can move forward to implement the law.

Myra Stiles
Shelby County Election Commissioner


Re: "If We Could Make a Suggestion ...," October 15th issue: There is a big problem on the portion of Southern Avenue that runs through the University of Memphis campus parallel to the BNSF railroad tracks. The current speed limit on Southern is 35 mph; most folks do 40 mph or more. At those speeds, it's almost impossible to come to a safe stop if a student absentmindedly steps out to cross without looking. When you add wet streets and bad drivers, well, that's a recipe for disaster.

The city of Memphis, in conjunction with the art department at the U of M, should have a student competition to paint several crosswalks on that portion of Southern. The city should donate the reflective paint and the necessary tools to get the job done.

The city could and should also provide electronic warning signs indicating that it's a "Student Crossing Area." The signage could be solar-powered and therefore not cost much to operate.

Kenneth R. Parms

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