Pressure Mounts on Election Officials as Local Probe by FBI Begins

Election Administrator Holden, .now set for Bureau session in early February, and six of his employees are on interview list, SCEC chair Meyers confirms.



SCEC chairman Robert Meyers
  • SCEC chairman Robert Meyers
The now ongoing FBI’s investigation of the Shelby County Election Administrator’s office, first reported as imminent by the Flyer in December, is moving — in the often-used bureaucratic phrase — “with all deliberate speed.”

So far one employee of the Election Administrator’s office has been interviewed by the FBI, but five more designated on the Bureau’s ask list have not been, nor has the Administrator himself, Richard Holden. Earlier reports had suggested that Holden would be interviewed this week, but Robert Meyers, chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission, said he had been informed that Holden’s interview had been rescheduled for some time in early February.

Meyers confirmed that, besides Holden himself, the FBI had designated six employees for interviews — “two in voter registration, three in the election officials department, and one trainer.” The chairman — one of three Republicans on the five-member Commission, which also includes two Democrats — declined, on grounds of “fairness,” to identify the names of the six employees involved, or to indicate the category of the employee already interviewed.

He said, however, that both the list of persons to be interviewed and what he knew of the FBI’s normal interests in election processes would suggest that the purpose of the Bureau’s investigation was to look into possible denials of individuals’ voting rights.

Meyers said he didn’t know whether the impetus for the investigation had come from specific voters or from other persons who have raised questions about the local election process. Numerous election glitches have occurred in recent years, though both Holden and Meyers have insisted that none of importance had occurred in 2013, which saw a series of elections held in Shelby County.

A recent news report had suggested, however, that the Election Commission’s website contains non-matching lists of candidates seeking office this year. The Commission insists there is only one list.

In any case, several problems had vexed local elections in the years immediately prior to 2013.

The election of August 2010, which resulted in a Republican sweep of countywide offices on the ballot, despite the fact that Democrats held a presumed edge in voter registration, generated litigation from several of the losing Democrats. One motivating factor in the complaint was an election-day glitch in which an estimated 5400 voters were incorrectly listed as having already early-voted.

Though apparently only a few hundred people intending to vote in that election were directly affected, and most of those (according to Commission spokespersons) had a chance to vote later in the day, a mood of distrust arose which survived both the fact that margins between winners and losers were far larger than the number of possible errors and that then Chancellor Arnold Goldin would summarily dismiss the legal complaint.

Subsequently several observers, including veteran pollster Berje Yacoubian, raised questions about the accuracy and methodology of an ongoing voter-list purge. And the local elections of August 2012 were characterized by a faulty redistricting process that resulted in several thousand wrong ballots being issued — a fact which a state investigation directly attributed to procrastination and mishandling of the process by the Administrator’s office.

Most recently, a county audit report released in August identified dozens of voter applications that had not been processed during the previous year. The audit designated 19 questionable circumstances, seven of which, including the Election Commission’s cash receipt process and record-keeping, were considered to be high-risk.

In December, more or less simultaneous with the first reports of FBI interest, the Shelby County Commission approved a resolution of No Confidence in Administrator Holden by a bipartisan 9-0 vote. A Memphis City Council committee followed suit, and the full Council was expected to vote accordingly this week.

Neither resolution is binding, and Meyers and other members of the Election Commission’s Republican majority have seemingly rallied around Holden, but the political and P.R. consequences of the two votes, the FBI investigation, and negative publicity are self-evident and mounting.

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