As a newcomer to Memphis and the American South in general, I'm used to new experiences and cultural surprises. But I wasn't prepared for the horrific surprise I had when I went for early voting last Thursday night.
I went to the Agricenter location after work. And my heart dropped when I saw the Diebold machines: We all know their code was tampered with in at least one past presidential election (remember the Gore/Bush vote-switching debacle? I'm from Ohio, so I sure do), and you have to live under a rock within a sound-proof booth to not know intelligence agencies are sounding the alarm about possible meddling by Russia in this year's elections.
Armed with these concerns, I asked for a paper ballot and explained why I preferred this method over the Diebold voting machines this year. I was then given a paper ballot to look over as two poll workers got on the phone for instructions on how to proceed with my request. They were told they could only provide paper ballots for provisional voters: If the voter had ID and was registered, his/her only option was using the Diebold machine provided. I again explained why I was requesting an alternative to that option.
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At that point, one of the poll workers backed away from assisting me, while the other continued. As I told her, I was merely asking to exercise my civic duty. She continued with the process of offering me a paper ballot. Until she was taken aside. She came back and informed me that she had been told by Joe Young at the Shelby County Election Commission that if she continued to assist me she would be charged with a crime.
At that point, I told her not to help; I acquiesced to the threat against her. I felt bullied and didn't have the presence of mind to ask what charge she was being threatened with. My request to cast my vote in a way that couldn't be electronically hacked was denied.
But my presence of mind came back on the car ride home. I sent an email to Joe Young of the election commission that night, again detailing why I asked for a paper ballot this year and asked him specifically what crime the poll worker would have been committing by providing a requested paper ballot? I asked him to explain by close of business Friday (July 20th), but I have yet to receive any type of reply.
Although I am not thoroughly familiar with the laws in the state of Tennessee, I am pretty sure that causing the election commission some extra work to process a live paper ballot is not a crime.
I mean, actually threatening to charge a poll worker with a crime because she was helping a citizen vote with a paper ballot? In these United States? Really? Shame on you, Joe Young. And shame on the Shelby County Election Commission.
P.S. If any of you out there are game and are also concerned about the security of your vote this year, ask for a paper ballot as well. I'd be interested in comparing experiences.
Elaine Farstad lives and works in Memphis.