Politics » Politics Feature

Missing vote cards at Bishop Byrne: A tempest in a teapot, or a tempest?



Matt Drudge and his red-alert post Friday morning about possible vote fraud in Shelby County notwithstanding, members of the Election Commission regard the case of 12 missing "smartcards" at Memphis' Bishop Byrne High School polling site to be not worth anybody getting their knickers in a knot.

"Pretty innocent," said Republican member Rich Holden. "People just get forgetful." Both he and GOP colleague Nancye Hines, who actually inspected the Bishop Byrne site, agree that the likely explanation is that voters at the overcrowded site during early voting just forgot to return the cards after voting and distracted officials there forgot to remind them.

"They were awfully busy when I was there," said Hines, who went to see for herself during the week after getting a report that something might be awry at Bishop Byrne. "I don't feel the least bit of discomfort. The main problem here is the expense of furnishing new cards to replace the ones that were lost." What likely happened when the cards failed to be returned by early voters was "kind of like picking up a pen and forgetting to return it."

In any case, both she and Holden concur, the missing cards are blank - containing no information that could allow anyone to use them for illegal voting.

The unsourced report on right-wing blogger Matt Drudge's Web site early Friday was far more alarmist. Said he of the 12 cards (out of 30 originally provided to the site for voting): "Someone possessing a smartcard could use 'off the shelf equipment' [equipment that reprograms the card] and alter it to be used multiple times, and cast multiple votes,"
 continuing, "One concerned insider explains: 'Shelby County Board of Elections has been notified. They said it was 'not a big deal' because, they said, the cards are deactivated. But the reality is, you can buy the equipment at computer stores to reactivate them. It's on the Internet how to reactivate the cards!'"

Nonsense, say Holden and Hines. And Democrat Greg Duckett, the commission's chairman, fully agrees. "Yes, the cards are blank after a voter has used them for voting. When he returns them to an official at the precinct, they have to be reactivated for each voter in turn." And the most anybody could do with them under a worst-case scenario - involving careful collaboration between the miscreant voter and several different polling officials, along with the use of highly specialized equipment - would be to squeeze out one extra vote per card. This after hours - perhaps days - of effort and a perfect storm of synchronized circumstance.

"It really isn't feasible," Duckett said, going on to explain that numerous safeguard procedures - "redundancies," as he calls them -- make cheating with the cards not only ineffective time- and effort-wise but virtually impossible. These involve security codes specific to each precinct, the two different applications required of individual voters at a polling site, and the fact that several officials have to process each individual vote. Not to mention pollwatchers representing the various candidates and political parties, "who this year have been at every site I know about," Duckett said.

On the other hand, another report of vote irregularities during the early voting period that concluded Thursday involved the prospect of two people having made an effort to vote twice. District Attorney General Bill Gibbons confirmed that an investigation of something like that was going forward.

Duckett was asked: Is it possible that one or more of the missing cards might have been involved in the two suspect instances? "I'd like to be able to answer that, but, while there's an investigation going on, I can't," he said.

Possible translation: Maybe?

"What I think is demonstrated by the fact of an investigation is that our redundancies and procedures make it very difficult to sneak something by," Duckett said.

Watch this space. We're on the case.

-- Jackson Baker

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