Questions about disenfranchisement in Memphis election

Last night I got a call from a friend in Memphis who wants the word spread about possible disenfranchisement of voters there. In the August 5 election, the list of early voters from May was loaded into the computer instead of the early voters from this time. Many voters were turned away on Aug. 5 because they were listed as already having voted. They were supposed to have been offered provisional ballots, but in many cases that did not happen. Only 210 provisional ballots were cast, while the Election Commission said that as many as 5,000 people could have been affected. (In May’s early voting, 31,029 ballots were cast, so I don’t know how they came up with 5,000 or their pulled-out-of-the-air reassurance that probably no more than 500 were affected.) The commission has downplayed the problem as consistently as BP with its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. On the very day of the election, before it was even over, commission chairman Bill Giannini told the Commercial Appeal: “We have yet to receive a report of a single voter who was denied the right to vote. I firmly believe that through the audit process, we’ll decide this election to the last vote.”

My friend Doris stresses that this is not just about this election, calling into question the integrity of earlier elections using the Diebold voting machines.

Doris told me:

It’s disenfranchisement of voters from all over the city. Someone sent in the wrong information for the computers. They don’t know if it was on purpose. People were told they had voted in early voting and couldn’t vote but they hadn’t. One person was arrested during early voting for voting twice and now we don’t know if that was true.

The Election Commission said only 5,000-6,000 were turned away. But how would anybody know the number when they were turning people away? They just sent them away. They say it’s not enough votes to affect the outcome, but we need a revote.

They gave some people paper provisional ballots that didn’t have all the candidates on them. A lot of people weren’t offered provisional ballots. They just sat there for two or three hours and walked out and didn’t get to vote. They weren’t told they could vote.

I am working on getting some neighborhood and other groups to join me to get affidavits. At a meeting Tuesday [Aug. 10] 400 people came to the Electrical Workers Union hall on Madison. Randy Wade and other candidates asked for affidavits about what people witnessed. We heard testimony that one supervisor at a precinct had all votes deleted from machines at one point.

The Justice Department has been asked to investigate, but if there’s no outcry from the community they won’t do anything. We need poll observers in Memphis like the observers that go to other countries to make sure there are no infractions. A lot of the politicians are quiet about it because this is not the first time this has happened. It’s just the first time it’s widespread. So now they’re talking about a full investigation. I hope they can go back to look at other elections. With machines people don’t have a record of how they voted. Anything can be done to manipulate the votes. These kinds of things have been happening all along, so it’s good it came to light.

Now it has been reported that auditors and consultants brought in to investigate what happened have been denied access to voting records, even as simple as “how many votes were there per candidate, and where.” (See also the Memphis Flyer article.) Even cases where access was delayed raise suspicions in an election–especially when there are reports of tampering with seals on voting machines and alterations of computer files that were supposed to be left untouched:

“Hundreds of them, the seals have been removed or are not applied or have been taped back together with masking tape,” said one consultant on Aug. 13. “They were making alterations at 4:13 yesterday afternoon to the central tabulation file that was supposed to not be touched by court order.”

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