Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Best-selling Author Ford Due to Lose Tennessee Voting Rights

Posted By on Tue, Aug 31, 2010 at 11:58 PM

HaroldFordJr_2.jpg
More Davids Than Goliaths, the political memoir by former Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr., has ascended to the Number four position on the Washington Post's bestseller list.

Ford's last public appearance in his erstwhile home was on August 18, when he addressed an audience at Davis-Kidd Booksellers and signed copies of his book. On that occasion Ford told his attentive audience that his political days were not over — though presumably they will have to continue in New York, both as candidate (earlier this year, Ford briefly considered a run for the Senate there) and as voter.

Ford was until this week a registered voter in both Tennessee, where for some time in 2008-9 he considered a run for governor, and the Empire State, where Ford now lives with his wife and which he considers his residence.

The circumstance of dual registration had been brought to the attention of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett by a complainant, with the result that Ford will likely be purged from the ranks of Tennessee voters. Or so Blake Fontenay, a spokesperson for Hargett, has indicated.

The status of Harold Ford Sr., also a former Memphis congressman, had been questioned as well but is regarded differently. Ford Sr., who like his son maintains a Memphis address, has apparently not registered to vote in Florida; therefore, his Tennessee registration is still good.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Is This Man Ruthless?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 1:35 PM

District Attorney General Bill Gibbons
  • District Attorney General Bill Gibbons
So says Bev Harris of Seattle, Washington, one of the investigators for Shelby County’s post-election litigants in a post on the blackboxvoting.org website of her advocacy organization.

In fact, Harris seems to have settled on Bill Gibbons as one of the villains of the piece — suggesting that the mild-mannered District Attorney General for Shelby County….well, let her tell it:

"...There is a county district attorney that needs closer scrutiny from the world at large. His name is William Gibbons. Quite a puller of strings in the Memphis power structure. Ruthless. Everyone I talk to behind the scenes is scared of retribution from Gibbons. As I understand it, the intimidation factor, announcing the arrest of a couple people for voting twice four years ago, plastering the media with this just days before the election, came from Gibbons' office.

"Then, as you see, the expresspollbooks (e-pollbooks) were coded to wrongfully reject thousands of voters who were told 'you have already voted.' This, in combination with the media push touting arrests for voting twice, created voter intimidation. The records needed to identify which voters and how many were disenfranchised were stonewalled, altered, redacted, refused, etc...."

Ironically, Gibbons himself was one of the voters identified incorrectly on August 5 as having already voted because of the incorrect early-voting data — from the May 5 primary election season, says the Election Commission — fed into the electronic poll book (EPB) for election day on August 5.

Apprised of Harris’ statement, the Attorney General responded as follows:

“When the Election Commission refers a matter to us regarding possible voter fraud, if, upon review, we feel there is a possibility of any criminal conduct, we refer it to the TBI for investigation. After we receive the results of the TBI's investigation, we decide whether there is sufficient proof to move forward with prosecution. Sometimes we move forward, and sometimes we do not, depending upon whether we feel we have sufficient proof.

“No one should feel intimidated by prosecutions for voter fraud, unless, of course, that person either has or is contemplating engaging in such conduct !

“I was one of those voters who, on election day, was told I had already voted when , in fact, I had not !”

Gibbons would go on, like apparently thousands of other voters, to fill out a “fail-safe” affidavit, after which he was allowed to vote on one of the county’s Diebold voting machines.

In the aftermath of the election, when the results were first disputed, Gibbons was asked by the Election Commission to investigate the election and passed on that request to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The TBI went on to investigate but has not yet released its report.

Meanwhile, the litigants, who by this time include all of the defeated Democratic countywide candidates except for outgoing interim mayor Joe Ford, have filed the second of two Chancery Court suits — this one asking that the election be ruled invalid as “incurably uncertain.”

According to Trustee Regina Morrison Newman, attorney for the group and a litigant herself, the Election Commission has suspended any further investigative access by the litigants or their representatives.

The group is holding an “informational meeting” on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Bloomfield Baptist Church at 123 South Parkway West and is asking that any voters who had “issues in the August election” attend.

On Tuesday, September 14, at 6 p.m. the litigants and their supporters plan a march on the Election Commission headquarters downtown.

And an account — entitled “Shelby County Voter Protection Rights Fund” — has been opened at First Tennessee Bank to accept donations for the ongoing legal action.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Heeding Democrats' Local Misfortune, McWherter Will Focus on Early Voting

Posted By on Fri, Aug 27, 2010 at 8:33 AM

Mike McWjherter addressing Germantown Democrats
  • JB
  • Mike McWjherter addressing Germantown Democrats
Apparently taking his cue in part from the rout suffered by Democrats in Shelby County in the countywide election period ending on August 5, Democratic gubernatorial standard-bearer Mike McWherter told an audience of Germantown Democrats this week that he intended to focus his efforts on early voting.

Vowing to concentrate “the bulk” his campaign resources on “the first part of October, just before early voting starts,” McWherter said, “People make up their minds early, and you can’t change it once it goes in that ballot box.”

He would amplify on that in a brief interview after he concluded his remarks, delivered at the Cordova Public Library Wednesday night. Commenting on the debacle suffered by the Democratic ticket in Shelby County on August 5, when the party’s entire slate of countywide candidates went down to defeat, McWherter said, “I really and truly believe that heat was a factor in Democrats getting their vote. It was so hot during early voting, and Democrats were most susceptible to that, because a lot of or voters are working class and find it hard to get out.”

In his speech, McWherter acknowledged criticism that he hadn’t spent much time in Shelby County up until now and promised, “I’m going to be like a bad penny down here, turning up every time you turn around.”
His awareness of the local election cycle had influenced his judgment as to when and where he should campaign, McWherter said.

As he told the group of assembled local Democrats, “A lot of people have questioned why I haven’t been in Shelby County more. Well, the truth of the matter is, y’all have had an election here every month for the last 12 months, and you’re trying to compete with resources and to get people’s interest, and it’s very hard to do. So I really made a very conscious decision, that, rather than compete with all these other races, I was better off to spend my time in a lot of these rural communities, building our foundation, building our organization.

“I’ve done that now. I feel very good about where I am. It was important to build up a rural operation as well as an urban one. But it is time for me to spend time in Shelby County, and I’ll be here a whole lot.”

Yet another reason for his increased presence locally would be the fact that his son Walker has enrolled in Rhodes College and will be playing football on the Lynx squad, making all home games a magnet for himself and his wife Mary Jane, who accompanied him to the event in Cordova.

As he normally does during public appearances, McWherter spoke at some length on his plans for tax breaks to incentivize small business growth in Tennessee, and he proposed to actively recruit suppliers and other “associated industries” to complement the large automotive and solar-energy plants that have located themselves in Tennessee in recent years.

The Jackson businessman, son of former Governor Ned McWherter, had toured the Med earlier on Wednesday. He said he intended to help Memphis develop its potential as the capitol of the Mid-South and the center of regional industry. “People talk about [Governor] Haley Barbour down in Mississippi poaching industry from other states. Well, I can’t really criticize him for that, because I intend to do exactly the same thing.”

McWherter characterized his approaches as geared to the interests of working people and small business and suggested that his Republican opponent, Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, had a more distanced, “bureaucratic” attitude.
While he himself was proposing to find a way to lower taxes on groceries, Haslam’s priority was “to lower taxes on estates,” said McWherter, who recounted some of the ordinary jobs he’d taken on across the state as part of his jobs-oriented “Mike Works” campaign.

“I’ve done everything from balance tires to build a couch you don’t want to sit on. I shoveled fertilizer — and there was another word for it that morning….I am frankly very resentful of those Republicans in the Republican primary who even suggested that Tennesseans are enjoying drawing unemployment.”

Noting that in 1972 Republicans had held the governorship, both of Tennessee’s Senate seats, and a majority of the state’s congressional delegation but that Democrats had turned that around, McWherter said, ““We were Red State back then. We became a Blue State, and I believe we’re going to build back with y’all’s support and we’re going to be a Blue State again.”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

All Defeated Democrats Join in Amended Legal Challenge to August 5 Outcome

Posted By on Thu, Aug 26, 2010 at 8:07 AM

Newman, flanked by fellow candidates Wade and Johnican, addressing media
  • JB
  • Newman, flanked by fellow candidates Wade and Johnican, addressing media

Even as candidates and advocates and party organizations start ratcheting up for the races and issues to be disposed of on the forthcoming November ballot, the August 5th election refuses to go away.

Last week the Shelby County Election Commission formally certified the August 5th election and issued a report chalking up a now infamous election-day glitch to “human error” without effect on any final outcome. But this week the number of litigants seeking to overturn that election has swelled from two to ten, as the entire slate of Democratic candidates defeated in races for countywide positions has joined in a revamped lawsuit which contends that the election results are “incurably uncertain.”

The suit, filed in Chancery Court Tuesday, will probably be combined with an earlier one which sought injunctive relief on behalf of two litigants, Regina Morrison Newman, the incumbent Trustee who had sought reelection, and Minerva Johnican, candidate for Criminal Court clerk. Or so said Newman, who is functioning as a lawyer for herself and other litigants, at a Wednesday morning press conference outside the Shelby County courthouse. ( Not present was the litigants’ other attorney, Van Turner, who is chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party.)

A handout issued at the press conference to media representatives itemized 12 different lapses or suspicious circumstances in the election. One of them involved the well-publicized fact, acknowledged in the Election Commission’s report, that early-voting data from the May countywide primary election was incorrectly entered into the electronic poll books (EPBs) used for August 5th voting — an error potentially affecting 5390 voters, many of whom were in fact originally told they had already voted and could not do so again on August 5.

Newman, who was flanked at the press conference by such other litigants as Sheriff’s candidate Randy Wade, Johnican, and Juvenile Court clerk candidate Shep Wilbun, suggested that the number of voters affected by the data-base error could have been even larger, citing accounts of voters who said they were held back from voting who had not early-voted in May.

In that regard, the handout made reference to alleged obstacles experienced by Bev Harris and Susan Pynchon, consultants from the advocacy group BlackBoxVoting: “Candidate inspection teams have thus far been denied sufficient data or documentation to even verify that …SCEC used the May 2010 early voter database rather than a larger early voter database which would have affected more voters, as some voter statements would indicate.”

Numerous other problems were listed as having been uncovered by the litigants and their consultants in a post-election investigation. Allegedly, for example, there was a discrepancy between the “Participating Voters List” of 176,119 voters and the SCEC’s “Certified Statement of Votes Cast,” showing 182,921 votes — a difference of “6,802 more votes…cast than individuals who participated.”

Also referred to in the handout were problems in the handling of provisional ballots for those voters who were turned away and who asked for such ballots; improperly discarded poll tapes; inconsistencies in poll-by-poll turnout reports; improperly sealed or unsecured “voting machines, tabulators, memory cards, and other voting apparatuses;” and even a “ghost race,” i.e., a voting-machine category hidden to voters but capable of being “used to transfer, delete, or temporarily store votes.”

And there was the issue of a “manual override” function in the Diebold Corporation machines, one which Election Commission officials acknowledge was used during the election period and which the litigants allege can be used to change vote totals — something which has been explicitly denied by Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini.

Wilbun, who, until earlier this year, when he began his candidacy, was a Democratic member of the Election Commission, said the very existence of such a function had not previously been disclosed.

Newman, who had once been quoted as saying her aim in pursuing the post-election challenge was not meant as a dispute of the results per se, said on Wednesday that her perspective and that of the other litigants had been changed by the volume of irregularities discovered and by legal requirements for moving forward with the amended lawsuit.

An extended section of the handout speaks further to the purposes of the litigants:

“This lawsuit is intended to assure that the…substantial and appalling improprieties which occurred in the August election are brought to light, investigated and resolved for all citizens and for every future election. The handling and mishandling of the august election by the SCEC is an embarrassment to our county and a violation of every principle on which our country was founded.

“Regardless of race, party or gender, every citizen is entitled to better and is entitled to an unimpeded and transparent voting process. Our upcoming November election, including the vote on consolidation of Memphis and Shelby County, is important to many, and we intend to do everything in our power, with the approval of the courts, to assure that every citizen’s vote counts. None of us should tolerate incompetence or impropriety.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chumney Gearing Up for Another Go?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 2010 at 8:44 AM

Any regular attendee of meetings of the Memphis Rotary Club, which convenes these days on Tuesdays at the University Club, can tell you that Carol Chumney, a past candidate for both city and county mayor, a former member of both the state legislature and the City council, is campaigning again.

Chumney, a Rotary member, regularly rises to query luncheon speakers on subjects of civic and political importance in such a way as to declare her own views.

Chumney with Julie Ellis in April
  • JB
  • Chumney with Julie Ellis in April
One recent case in point: When Julie Ellis, chairman of the Metro Charter Commission, spoke at Rotary in April, at a time when the commission was still formulating the elements of a city/county merger for an upcoming November referendum, Chumney rose to suggest that any Memphis/Shelby county consolidation follow the example of Louisville in one important particular.

As she put it regarding the Kentucky city: “Both the city mayor and the county mayor agreed not to run for Metro mayor. That took politics out of the equation. It made it a totally non-political discussion, and they were able to come up with a compromise that they needed, because nobody was positioning and posturing to run for the new Metro mayor.”

Chumney then went on to ask if Ellis had received assurances from “our county mayor, candidates for our county mayor, and our city mayor” not to run for Metro mayor if the consolidation initiative should pass muster with the voters? Conspicuously, Chumney did not mention in her list former candidates for city or county mayor.

She would go on to say she was aware of some “posturing to have the current mayor,” meaning Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, victorious over Chumney in previous contests for both city and county mayor, become a candidate for Metro mayor. Instead, said Chumney, Wharton ”should step aside and do what’s best for the city.”

There was considerable post-meeting conversation among Rotary members to the effect that Chumney, who ran for Shelby County mayor in 2002 and for Memphis mayor in 2007 and 2009 and has meanwhile resumed her private legal practice, sounded like a candidate again.

Subsequent post-luncheon questions of Rotary speakers reinforced the impression —, like a series of politically based questions Chumney directed at Dr. Reginald Coopwood in the wake of the Med CEO’s appearance earlier this month. In the course of querying Coopwood about his resolve to endure the ongoing crisis of funding for the Med, Chumney pointedly recalled her own history of support as a legislator for the perennially embattled hospital.

And the hearty congratulations Chumney offered such other speakers as football referee Sarah Thomas and American Bar Association president Carolyn Lamm about their overcoming of a “glass ceiling” restricting women in public life made it further clear that Chumney might intend another shot at that ceiling herself.

Here’s how Chumney expressed the matter in a news release last fall on the temporary ascension of then county commission chairman Joyce Avery as interim mayor of Shelby County:

“ We’ve seen women as serious contenders at the national level in 2008 to be the first female President (Hillary Clinton) and Vice- President (Sarah Palin) of the United States of America; and women elected as Mayors of other large cities such as Atlanta. I hope in the future that qualified women will not be limited to legislative positions in state or local government, will be given fair and unbiased coverage by the press and media when they seek higher office, and will have the opportunity to be elected to lead as mayor, Governor, and the U.S. Senate. This is a civil rights issue for women in Memphis, Shelby County and Tennessee. “

And within the last month Chumney has established a new website, carolchumneyonline.com, whose masthead bears in full caps a variation on her former campaign slogan, “COUNT ON CAROL CHUMNEY." There is a link on the new site to a companion site advertising Chumney’s legal practice, and it, too, bears a variation on the “Count On” concept.

Indications are that the carolchumneyonline.com site will have a strong focus on political matters. The current posting, entitled “Election Investigation is a Good Thing,” reviews the history of questionable election outcomes in Shelby County and supports the current investigative efforts of Democratic litigants and others dissatisfied with the results of the August 5th county election.

Tellingly, the entry does not omit a point Chumney frequently makes: That in the 2007 race for Memphis mayor she finished only 7 percent points behind Willie Herenton, then running for a fifth term.

Friday, August 20, 2010

State Election Coordinator Goins Collects August 5th Evidence, as Does TBI

Posted By on Fri, Aug 20, 2010 at 7:22 PM

State Election Coordinator Mark Goins
  • State Election Coordinator Mark Goins
The dominoes are falling — so far, quietly — in the aftermath of an August 5th countywide election that is still being disputed. But the possibility of a dramatic crash of sorts still exists.

The Shelby County Election Commission has conducted its own investigation of a glitch that resulted in wrong early-voting data being fed into the Electronic Poll Book (EPB) for the election. That investigation, the results of which were announced Wednesday, pinned responsibility on "human error" on the part of the Commission’s IT director, Dennis Boyce, but concluded that none of the races on the ballot were miscalled because of it.

Then, on Thursday, the Commission, in a brief, uneventful meeting, formally certified the results of the election, which had resulted in a Republican sweep of contested countywide races.

On Friday, state Election Coordinator Mark Goins and an aide came to the Commission’s Operations Center to conducts yet another inquiry, which included interviews of IT personnel and examination of facilities and equipment. Commission chairman Bill Giannini said there was no indication as to when Goins when announce the results of that investigation, but Giannini said they could come as soon as the middle of next week.

Goins had responded to a call for a state investigation made last week by State Representative G.A. Hardaway of Memphis.

Finally, representatives of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, virtually unnoticed, have been conducting a systematic investigation at the Operations Center and other relevant sites, and the TBI’s report could also come relatively soon, Giannini said. The TBI had been invited in by District Attorney Bill Gibbons, who had been asked to investigate by the Election Commission.

And the chief litigants in a pending lawsuit in Chancery Court — Trustee Regina Morrison Newman and Minerva Johnican, the defeated Democratic candidate for Criminal Court Clerk — are preparing to file an amended version of the suit seeking the overturn of the election. The filing will occur on or before Tuesday, five days after certification, thereby meeting the statutory deadline for the filing of such a challenge.

Van Turner, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party and attorney for the litigants, said that others of the defeated candidates in the August 5th election might join the suit. “We’re waging two contests — one in the courtroom and another in the court of public opinion,” he said.

Investigators who have been looking into the circumstances of the election at the behest of the litigants will resume their activity at the Operations Center site on Monday, Turner said.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Election Commission Rules "Human Error" Caused Glitch, Clears Way for Certification

Posted By on Thu, Aug 19, 2010 at 10:48 AM

EC chairman Bill Giannini (seated, end of table) details the results of post-election study.
  • JB
  • EC chairman Bill Giannini (seated, end of table) details the results of post-election study.

It may not be the final chapter in the “glitch” election of August 2010, but four members of the Shelby County Election Commission — two Democrats and two Republicans — formally underwrote and presented to the media on Wednesday their conclusion as to the cause of that glitch: human error, not political conspiracy or machine malfunction.

The report seemed to clear the way for formal certification of the August 5 election results on Thursday.

Present at the press conference at the commission’s Operations Center at Shelby Farms were Democratic commissioners Myra Stiles and James Johnson and Republicans Robert Meyers and chairman Bill Giannini. Absent was Republican commissioner Brian Stephens.

The causative mistake, documented in a report prepared jointly by Meyers and Johnson, was a freely acknowledged one by the commission’s I T director, Dennis Boyce, a civil servant, who told commission director Rich Holden on the morning of election day, Thursday, August 5, that “he had made an error in selecting one of the data files” that were loaded into the Electronic Poll Book (EPM) used for voting that day.

Boyce had been asked to investigate the circumstances of complaints the commission had received from voters in several precincts that they were wrongly recorded as having participated during July’s early-voting period.

What happened, says the report, was that, in the crush of having only a weekend after the conclusion of early voting on July 31 to ready the EPM for election day, Boyce failed to alter the code for early-voting data that had been used prior to final voting in the May 4 countywide primary and inadvertently “left the election data file identification number for the May election, 921, in the script.”

The error “potentially affected” 5,390 voters who had early-voted before the May election but not before the August election. Of those, the report says that 1.952 were allowed to cast regular ballots via the Diebold voting machines after signing “fail-safe” affidavits asserting their right to do so. Another 210 cast “provisional ballots,” of which 136 were later deemed valid.

Doing the math would indicate that the outcome of no election race could have been affected even if all the remaining voters, some 3000-odd, had been prevented from voting but would have voted unanimously for a losing candidate. But in fact, the commissioners agreed, the likelihood was that a substantial number of those unaccounted-for voters had not presented themselves at a polling place on election day.

Chairman Giannini accepted responsibility for the error and for the fact that no system of “checks and balances” was in place to prevent or detect an error of the sort committed by Boyce, who was identified in the report as “an employee with an exemplary record.” Giannini estimated that Boyce’s service at the Election Commission dated back at least nine years — which meant that he was hired during a period of Democratic control of the commission.

But, said Giannini, he did not know what Boyce’s personal politics were, nor was it “any concern’ of his or the commission.

As for preventing such an error from being repeated in the future, the report contained four recommendations.: mandating that a second employee verify that the correct sets of data are loaded into the election-day EPBs, exploring the possibility of “automating this process;” evolving the commission’s existing “Logic and Accuracy” (L&A) testing “to encompass testing for this issue;” further training election officials “on the use of failsafe voting and the use of provisional ballots;” and further educating the voting public on the use of such alternative voting means.

Giannini ruled out the possibility that innate defects in the Diebold machines used for the election might have been a factor, saying that the glitch that happened preceded the use of the machines on election day and could have affected any vote-counting system, even the opti-scan system touted by advocates of voting-machine reform and currently scheduled to be employed in Tennessee in the 2012 election cycle.

(An irony of the post-election crisis is that the issue of proprietary software — often cited by Election Commission spokespersons to explain their reluctance to part with certain requested data — relates not to the Diebold Corporation, original suppliers of the voting machinery and software used by Shelby County, but to ESS, which in 2006, when the machines and software were purchased, was a rival company engaged in intense competition with Diebold for the county’s business. As it happens, ESS has since acquired from Diebold the ownership of record for the kinds of technology in use in Shelby County — a fact complicating the proprietary issue.)

Greg Grant announced invitation to Al Sharpton to intervene.
  • JB
  • Greg Grant announced invitation to Al Sharpton to intervene.
Issuance of the Election Commission’s report laid the basis for official certification of the August 5 results, scheduled to take place on Thursday — after which the plaintiffs in the case, several defeated Democratic candidates and their supporters, will have five days to appeal the certification.

Representatives of the state Election Coordinator's office will be at the Operations Center on Friday to conduct a separate audit.

Another of several indications that the post-election controversy is far from over, regardless of Wednesday’s report or Thursday’s pending certification, was a press conference called Wednesday by the local chapter of the National Action Network, an organization presided over nationally by noted activist Al Sharpton.

At the press conference, held on the steps outside the Election Commission’s downtown offices, Greg Grant, president of the Memphis chapter, announced that Sharpton had been invited to Memphis to intervene in the case “in support of the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

The invitation was not coordinated with the plaintiffs in the case, said Grant, who indicated he expected to receive a reply from Sharpton “within 24 hours.”

Included in materials passed out by Grant was a lengthy list of "records we have been unable to obtain," including several items relating specifically to the functioning of the Diebold machinery and software.

Still to be accounted for in any official explanation is the functioning of a "manual override" capability in the Diebold software -- one which Giannini has conceded was employed for adjustment purposes during the August 4 election process, but not, he insists, to alter voting results.

And a statement from a spokesperson for District Attorney Bill Gibbons served as a reminder that further inquiries into possible election irregularities remain to be completed:

Regarding the announcement Wednesday by the Shelby County Election Commission, the District Attorney wanted to clarify that the TBI criminal investigation into the problems at the polls on election day has not concluded and is ongoing. The DA has not made a determination on whether there was criminal intent in this case. That determination will be made after the TBI has finished the investigation.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Litigants' Direct Inspection of Voting Results Halted Until Monday

Posted By on Tue, Aug 17, 2010 at 9:17 PM

Giannini with media on Monday
  • JB
  • Giannini with media on Monday
Sometime Tuesday afternoon acting special Chancellor Dewun Settle ordered that the inspection team acting on behalf of litigants of the August 5 election results cease their direct activities at Election Commission facilities until Monday.

That much principals representing both sides in the post-election dispute agree on.

But spokespersons for the Shelby County Election Commission present Settle’s action in the context of the inspectors’ breaching of an agreement not to videotape Commission employees at work. And from the litigants’ side comes a different explanation: That they voluntarily acquiesced in a six-day’ suspension to permit Election Commission employees to prepare for Thursday’s planned certification of election results, so long as files they were interested in were downloaded and made available to them.

Both sides agree in the aftermath that Election Commission employees needed to have unimpeded access to their workspace between now and Thursday’s certification — and that Friday needed to be set aside for an audit by a team from the state Election Coordinator’s office.

But Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini, who has kept his silence to this point on attorneys’ advice, said he was empowered to speak on this issue, and he said unequivocally that activities of the inspection team had caused several kinds of disruptions, prompting Danny Presley of the Commission’s legal team to appeal to Settle to temporarily suspend the inspection.

Elaborating, both Giannini and John Ryder, another Commission lawyer, said that videotaping of Election Commission personnel had gone on in breach of an agreement between the two sides. County trustee Regina Newman, a litigant who is doubling as a lawyer for her side, said inspection team members had not videotaped employees since agreeing not to at the beginning of the week but had videotaped some of the voting machines and other paraphernalia.

“We were not ‘thrown out,’” Newman said. “Well, they certainly didn’t want to have to stop,” said Giannini.
The Flyer has learned meanwhile that speculation has focused in on Dennis Boyce, the Election Commission’s IT director, as the employee responsible for the election-day glitch that caused the post-election squabble.

Boyce, a civil servant hired by a previous Democratic management team at the Election Commission, apparently oversaw the feeding of early-voting data into the August 5 electronic voting roll. It is believed that a list of early voters from this May’s countywide preferential primary was fed into the records instead of the July early-voting list, a circumstance that presented obstacles a number of would-be election-day voters.

“But we’re not even certain if that was the main problem,” said Newman. She said there were other irregularities, including the fact that for two hours last Thursday, when members of the litigants’ inspection team first arrived at the Commission’s Shelby Farms Operations Center, “they kept us outside for two hours while the poster logs were altered eight times.”

The “poster logs,” she explained, were records of machine activity, specifically of “manual overrides” conducted on them. She said it was her understanding that such overrides could possibly include “alternation of a vote total for a candidate.”

Giannini hotly denied that any alterations of voting results had occurred and said that reality would be attested to by successive audits of the machines in the next few days, by two local firms regularly engaged by the Commission, by the state Election Coordinator, and conceivably by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice.

In any case, the litigants’ direct inspection of Commission facilities has been halted until Monday by order of Settle, who was named acting special Chancellor for the case on Monday by Chancellor Walter Evans.

At a previous hearing in Chancellor Evans’ courtroom, the litigants and representatives of the Election Commission reached voluntary agreement about the need for sharing information about the actual voting results.

But disagreements arose early on when a group representing the litigants, joined by consultants from BlackBoxVoting, an advocacy group, arrived to download election data last Thursday at the Commission’s Operations Center. Commission officials charged the inspectors with disruption and were charged in turn with stonewalling.

Monday’s hearing, which resulted in Settle’s appointment, represented an effort to get beyond the stalemate — based in part on what Ryder said were proprietary matters involving the Diebold Corporation, makers of the voting machines in use in the county. “We have already provided them with more material than the law requires,” Ryder said.

Indeed, some of the material in dispute has been handed over, though Newman is disturbed that parts of it have been redacted. And of the voters potentially disadvantaged by the election-day glitch — some 5300, by her reckoning — she said, ““Based on our analysis of those numbers, there’s a disproportionate number of African Americans and ‘others’ in that number.”

Given the fact that questions were raised about vote-counting in the 2006 county election, in which several Democrats were narrowly defeated, there are bound to be lingering questions about the authenticity of this year’s outcome, even after all the evidence is sifted.

Ryder and Giannini concede that the persistence of conspiracy theories is inevitable, if unwarranted, and that asking for a temporary cessation of on-site inspection might provide additional fuel. “But we had no choice if we were to make the certification deadline,” Giannini said.

The litigants will have an opportunity to challenge the results for a period of five days following the certification procedure.

UPDATE: According to a report on WMC-TV Wednesday morning, activist Al Sharpton will appear with plaintiffs in the voting dispute at an 11 a.m. press conference at Election Commission headquarters.

More details as they are known.

Local Democrats' Governing Group Dubious About Metro Charter

Posted By on Tue, Aug 17, 2010 at 9:16 AM

A heated moment at last weeks Democratic executive committee meeting
  • JB
  • A heated moment at last week's Democratic executive committee meeting
Even as the final draft of a Metro Charter resolution is prepared for the city and county ballots this November, the chances of passage — already slim — shrink further.

Even the most naïve advocates of city/county counsolidation are aware that sentiment for the changeover in the part of Shelby County outside the City of Memphis is minimal to non-existent. What is not so well known is that the outlook for a favorable vote in Memphis itself is also dimming.

A sign of this was a largely unnoticed vote taken in the last month by the steering committee of the Shelby County Democratic Party to oppose the Charter resolution. While this vote is by no means reflective of the opinion of city residents as a whole, it does represent — by definition — the conviction of the leadership corps of the political party which has most traction in Memphis’ inner city.

The steering committee’s vote was taken to the membership at large of the party’s executive committee last Thursday night at a meeting which otherwise was dominated by post mortems of the just-concluded countywide election and by the continuing controversy over the consequences of an election-day voting-machine glitch.

As much because of the time and energy devoted to these other matters as for any reason, the executive committee voted to postpone any final action on repudiating the Metro Charter until its next monthly meeting when all the members will have been presented detailed copies of the Charter proposal to consider.

During a brief discussion of the Charter proposal, members of the party’s steering committee explained that one of their chief objections to accepting the consolidation resolution was a sense that it keeps the local governments of other county municipalities intact — with their mayors and legislative bodies continuing — while dissolving the existing structure of Memphis city government.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Post-Election Challenge for Dummies

Posted By on Sat, Aug 14, 2010 at 12:52 PM

Shep Wilbun, one of the affected Democratic candidates, examnes discarded voter data at Election Commission headquarters.
  • JB
  • Shep Wilbun, one of the affected Democratic candidates, examnes discarded voter data at Election Commission headquarters.

At this point, it is nigh on to impossible to imagine what happens next in the saga of the famous FUBAR election of August 2010.

Officials at the Election Commission are still trying to maintain, with all the inflexibility and certitude and desperate determination of single-bullet theorists, that what happened Thursday of last week was a simple minor-league glitch that inconvenienced at most a few hundred potential voters, few if any of them permanently, and was quickly corrected.

And they hold in reserve a trump card which I’m about to reveal: The perpetrator of the presumed offense — that of dumping the wrong set of early-voting data (from May of this year, allegedly) into the electronic voting book for the August 5 election — was a Democratic hire from years back, a civil servant type, as it were.

That revelation, which is just around the corner, will, the EC officials hope, have two ancillary consequences — absolving Republicans per se of any culpability in a hypothetical vote-suppression plot; and simultaneously insulating the current management from charges of inexperience and incompetence.

Meanwhile, an ad hoc confederation of Democratic activists, done-wrong candidates, consultants, conspiracy theorists, public service lobbyists, and pro bono legal helpers has descended upon the Election Commission’s places of operation determined to ferret out the secrets of this misadventure, even as the EC’s own personnel and attorneys have responded with maddening delaying tactics that may be designed to safeguard proprieties but look more like stalling or stonewalling to the seekers.

The army of the avengers has been buttressed on-site at various times by out-of-town newcomers such as Bev Harris of Seattle and Floridian Susan Pynchon, both consultants with BlackBoxVoting a consumer organization, and Mary Mancini of Nashville, the newly named head of Tennessee Citizen Action (TNCA). There has also come into being a new Facebook site entitled “I want a New Shelby County Election on Paper Ballots.”

And in the background the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is supposedly concluding its preliminary inquiry into the election mess while the Department of Justice in Washington is presumably mulling over 9th District congressman Steve Cohen’s request for a formal federal investigation.

As the indefatigable Regina Newman, as of now still the Trustee and a plaintiff in the case, has explained via Twitter, a group including herself, Cardell Orrin, Del Gill, George Monger, Shep Wilbun, Harris, Pynchon, and ad hoc attorney David Cocke spent hours at the Election Commission’s Mullins Station Operations Center on Thursday.

This group kept trying to access the election-day files they thought they were free to inspect as a result of the compact reached earlier in the week between Shelby County Democratic chairman Van Turner and the GOP’s John Ryder, lawyer in this case for the EC.

Turner and Ryder had done their deal in the courtroom of Chancellor Walter Evans, who had seen no need to make any further ruling. Problem was: For various reasons, neither Turner nor Ryder were available for consultation at Mullins Station on Thursday afternoon. (Turner, who presided over a meeting of the local Democratic executive committee that night, would turn up later.)

So Cocke, subbing for Turner, was left to deal with Gene Gaerig, the assistant county attorney subbing for Ryder, at EC East. EC director Rich Holden was in the building but taking no part in the negotiations and mainly just staying out of the way and standing ready if needed. Also present was Dewun Settle, Chancery Court clerk and master, prepared to authorize and oversee whatever actions ended up being taken.

Gaerig, while being personally agreeable up to a point, came up pit bull-hard against any suggestion that the group of Democrats and their supporters should access the facility’s central computer or any of the stored files or voting consoles that pertained to the case.

The machines and their data were “intellectual property” and subject to a contract between the county and the Diebold Corporation, said Gaerig, and, without a release of some sort from the latter, were not to be tampered with.

Harris and Pynchon were sure this was stalling and nothing but and insisted that Diebold had long since sold its interests to a successor organization and that, in any case, only Microsoft files were at stake. No matter. The stalemate went on for hours until Cocke suggested, and got approved, a compromise whereby the plaintiffs’ group would be able to download a list of relevant files contained on the voting machines and/or the central computer.

While all of this was going on, Turner was conducting a balls-out meeting of the Democratic Executive Committee at the AFSCME/MLK Center on Beale that, impressively enough, concerned itself less with accusations that the election had been stolen and more with some serious probing into how and why it may have been lost honestly.

All of the prevalent theories — the Herenton-Cohen fizzle, turnout from the GOP gubernatorial whiz-bang, etc. — were considered, along with one or two striking new ones: e.g., that the Democrats had signally failed to engage the interest and participation of Generation X-ers.

Turner, whose conduct of the party during election season had been challenged by Commercial Appeal opinion editor Otis Sanford, got an informal vote of confidence and something of a standing-O, and those speakers (like State Rep. G.A. Hardaway) who defiantly rejected published suggestions that the Democratic slate of candidates had been sub-standard were not refuted by anyone.

Meanwhile, back at Election Commission East, right up ‘til the approach of midnight, the petitioners, assisted by Orrin’s IT know-how, were going through the time-consuming process of downloading the file list. (At some point, according to Newman, Gaerig apparently objected to the “Yankee rudeness” of one of the visiting consultants, who were kept at bay both then and on Friday.)

Two new discoveries had been made — (1) Ribbon scrolls containing candidate-by-candidate, precinct-by-precinct totals of the sort no longer released by the EC publicly were found in trash bags and, at the request of the petitioners, were impounded for safekeeping. And (2) there was such a thing as a “manual override” capability in the county’s Diebold voting-machine software, and records pertaining to possible use of it continued to be under lock and key.

The petitioners would end the evening in possession of one disc’s worth of information and two bags’ worth of the discarded ribbon scrolls.

On Friday the action shifted back and forth between the EC’s Operations Center East and the EC’s downtown office as the petitioners continued to request downloads from servers at both locations, the process interrupted by long delays due to continued legal sparring.

Tweet from EC apropos one of the standoffs: “Our silence is us protecting your votes & voting rights while following strong advice from attorneys.”

It is somewhat unclear exactly what data was finally downloaded, though three identical copies were supposedly made of it — one disc each for the petitioners, the Election Commission, and the Court. More information will undoubtedly be sought.

At some near point all the participating parties will presumably prepare analyses of what they have. When and how the rest of us become acquainted with it — whether through monitored legal process or some other means — remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the second called meeting of Democrats and others interested in challenging the August 5 election outcome was convened at the AFSCME/MLK Center on Friday afternoon but was essentially only a rump session, quickly adjourned, in light of the simultaneous activities going on in the Election Commission’s spheres.

All of this, you may be sure, will be continued in the new week.

Friday, August 13, 2010

McWherter Shows the Flag in Memphis

Posted By on Fri, Aug 13, 2010 at 8:22 AM

Candidate McWherter at WREG-TV on Thursday
  • Candidate McWherter at WREG-TV on Thursday
Mike McWherter, the Democratic nominee for governor, made a run through Memphis on Thursday, addressing members of the Chamber of Commerce’s Business Roundtable on his tax-incentive plan for Tennessee business and submitting to interviews at all the local television stations.

All of that made good campaign sense. The primary season is over, and McWherter, who had no opponent on the August 5 Democratic primary ballot and was, as he acknowledges, less than omnipresent in these parts, now faces a general election contest with well-heeled Republican nominee Bill Haslam.

That fact should bring McWherter around more often, and, as the Jackson businessman pointed out, his home is a short driving distance from Memphis, which will also facilitate the frequency of his presence here. But there is yet another compelling reason for him to spend more time in Shelby County, beginning with yesterday’s visit.

McWherter has a son, Walker, who is entering Rhodes College this fall and one major reason his candidate father was in town on Thursday was to help Walker get settled into his dorm. And as McWherter has explained several times of late, home football games in Memphis are sure to bring both himself and wife Mary Jane around.

McWherter was asked about the increasingly obvious fact that Democrats running for office in Tennessee don’t tend to feature the word “Democrat” much or at all in their advertising and other campaign materials. His own first series of ads, which present him as a problem-solver and stay clear of ideological matters, don’t use the label.

Nor are the words “Democrat” or “Democratic” likely to be seen coupled with his name in future campaign presentations, he acknowledged, in a way reminiscent of the vow of U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. in 2006 not to “go yelling ‘Democrat, Democrat, Democrat!”

“Well, I’m running now in a general election, and I’m hoping to get the votes of Democrats, Republicans, and independents,” McWherter said by way of accounting for the absence of the party signifier.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he buys into the prevalent notion that Tennessee, once upon a time a reliable part of the old Democratic Solid South and in more recent years a bellwether state, shifting back and forth from Democratic to Republican control, is now permanently Republican — a Red State, in the current lexicon.

He recalls that in the early ‘70s Tennessee seemed to be trending Republican but in the elections of 1974 and 1976 voted Democrats into the governorship and the state’s two U.S. Senate seats, where Republicans had been before.

And there was another case — 1986, when there was a governor’s race, featuring former Republican governor Winfield Dunn, who was favored, versus a vanilla-wafer-eating Democrat who was Speaker of the state House of Representatives at the time.

The Democrat — one Ned Ray McWherter, Mike’s father — won, of course, and, after serving two terms in office, became something of a state institution in his own right. As Mike McWherter, widely regarded as a serious underdog in the 2010 race for governor, recalls, “The networks were calling that an upset,” and he suggests that another one may be in the offing this year.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cohen's Call for DOJ Probe of Voting Snafu Climaxes First Protest Meeting

Posted By on Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 10:55 AM

Democratic chairman Turner convenes meeting to protest election results in presence of several affected candidates.
  • JB
  • Democratic chairman Turner convenes meeting to protest election results in presence of several affected candidates.

UPDATE on goings-on at EC and the legal/political standoff coming later Friday.

Steve Cohen is discovering the full ramifications of what it entails to be the Last Man Standing — i.e., titular party leader — in the local Democratic hierarchy.

At a Monday night meeting at the IBEW Hall on Madison, called to vent complaints about the conduct and outcome of the just-concluded county-wide election, there was a little grousing going on in the side aisles about an interview with the 9th District congressman reported that morning in The Commercial Appeal.

Some of the attendees took the freshly renominated 9th District congressman to be distancing himself from the grievances of defeated Democratic candidates for county office and washing his hands of the developing imbroglio over a suspect vote count, which stemmed from a systemic voting-machine glitch that raised obstacles to significant numbers of would-be voters.

That Cohen was not off the case was made evident, just minutes before the adjournment of that meeting — the first, it would seem, of a series that will be scheduled — when LaSimba Gray, one of several ad hoc spokespersons for the protest, made a dramatic announcement.

Congressman Cohen, he said, had asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct a formal investigation into “irregularities” in the election. That was a follow-through on a thought expressed by Cohen early on election day, August 5, when the first reports surfaced of voters being prevented from voting because of erroneous electronic information that they had already cast ballots during the early-voting period.

Cohen’s request of Holder would shortly indicate the nature of the rock and hard place the congressman now found himself having to thread. Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini posted this note on his Facebook page Wednesday night:

"Stefano Coheno"- Latin for HORSES ASS

Giannini’s remark was itself protested by Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, who suggested it showed “a lack of impartiality.” Giannini responded, "My reference was to a fictional character. As far as Cohen himself is concerned, he had every right to ask for a Department of Justice investigation, though I wish he had waited to see the results of the TBI investigation that we got started."

Giannini and Election Commission director Rich Holden had, early in the controversy, owned up to the fact that early-voting information from a previous election period — the May countywide primaries, held earlier this year — had been fed into the electronic voting roll by error. Although Holden and Giannini said the glitch had been fixed within an hour or two and estimated the number of inconvenienced voters at a scant few hundred, other opinions were decidedly different.

Democratic complainants, both defeated candidates and their supporters, said that, at minimum, there were some 5300 voters who early-voted in May and did not do so for the August 5 general election, establishing a numerical baseline larger than the margin of defeat for several of the candidates. Some Democrats were even maintaining that the number of potentially compromised votes was larger, up to 30,000. That supposition was apparently based on the theory the erroneous early-voting information had actually been from a 2008 election period.

Monday night’s meeting, called by Democratic Party chairman Van Turner, drew several hundred people, in whose ranks were several of the defeated candidates who have challenged either the accuracy or the bona fides of the election process.

Turner called for those who had experienced difficulties in casting ballots on August 5 to fill out affidavits attesting to the nature of their difficulties, the locations of their precincts, and the circumstances of their prior votes this year, along with other information. “We have to have proof,” he said. “We can’t just go into court, can’t go into a proceeding and say, ‘It happened, Judge, believe me.’” Copies of an affidavit form were subsequently passed out to everyone present.

Turner would make the point, buttressed by testimony from others who addressed the crowd, that, contrary to Election Commission officials’ claims, the obstacles to voting were not cleared up right away but persisted for several hours. (Cited to support the clam of difficulties later on election day were the cases of District Attorney General Bill Gibbons — who, ironically, had been asked by the Election Commission to investigate the election and in turn called in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and Trustee Regina Morrison Newman, who testified as to her experience.)

Questions were raised about whether full provisional ballots were offered to voters improperly blocked from voting or, alternatively, whether such voters were asked to sign “fail-safe” affidavits, which would have allowed them to vote, pending further validation of their eligibility. Affidavits from those who had witnessed voter problems but had not themselves experienced them were also solicited as “eye-witness” testimony.

“We’re going to war. We need ammunition,” said Gray.

A voter named Daryl Lewis was among several who addressed the crowd. Lewis testified about his own difficulties and saud “A lot of people were turned away. A lot of our young people were turned away.” Another, Terrence Palmer, told the story of a deputy sheriff who lacked the time to pursue one of the available alternative processes had to leave without voting. “That happened over and over again,” he said.

Newman told attendees that she and others had received reports of people turned away who had not voted early in May, suggesting that the glitch was more all-encompassing than previously thought. She also told of voters requesting Democratic primary ballots and receiving Republican primary ballots instead.

Lexie Carter, who functioned as an election, inspector, said poll officials had been given improper guidance as to how to handle the problems that came up and in one case may have responded to an issue by wiping out the record of votes tallied to that point.

Another testifier was Geraldine Wade, sister-in-law to Sheriff’s candidate Randy Wade, another of the defeated Democrats. She had been one of those last Thursday who had first made public the difficulties facing voters.

Yet another, Raymond Suggs, said he had counted at least “80 to 87” voters who had been inconvenienced at his polling place.

Former Election Commissioner Shep Wilbun, who also was one of the defeated candidates, having run as the Democratic nominee for Juvenile Court Clerk, raised issues about the continued use of Diebold voting machines, pointing out that state Election officials — who were Republican appointees after the 2008 election — had prevailed on the GOP-controlled legislature to reverse an earlier legislative mandate to replace the machines with optical-scan voting machines that had paper-trail capability.

“These {the Diebold machines] are the same machines that we continue to have problems with, all the time…This is a machine that, when you vote on it, no one knows what happened,” Wilbun said. (Giannini would respond to that by saying, "I remain convinced that our current electronic method of voting better serves the public than a paper-ballot system would.")

These and possibly other issues relating to the voting controversy will be revisited Friday, when a follow-up meeting is held at 3 p.m. at the ASFSCME/MLK Center at Danny Thomas and Beale.

Meanwhile, the TPI investigation is rumored to be reaching completion.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Failure to Communicate: Part Two of Thoughts on the August 5 Outcome

Posted By on Mon, Aug 9, 2010 at 12:29 PM

See also Part One of Thoughts on the August 5 Outcome: "Making the Flag Fly Right".

Me-Too.jpg
The first precondition for last Thursday’s Republican sweep of countywide positions was laid in February when Sheriff Mark Luttrell was cajoled (or cajoled himself) into a change of mind about seeking the open Shelby County mayoral position.

Until that point local Republicans were inclined to be somewhere between fatalistic and desperate about their chances in the countywide general election. Not only had Shelby County’s population tipped over to an African-American majority — a key to Democratic dominance, especially considering there was still an extant corps of white Democrats — but the August 2008 election had seen Democrats sweep all three of the county positions then on the ballot: assessor, Trustee, and General Sessions clerk.

It is known that Luttrell — a popular, respected public figure who had always polled well across the racial and political divides — was constantly being hot-boxed by GOP partisans to forget about seeking a third term as sheriff and run instead for county mayor. At some point early this year either he or the Republican establishment — the originating agency is unclear — commissioned a poll to determine how Luttrell might do, matched against either of the likely Democratic nominees, commissioner Deidre Malone or interim mayor and former commissioner Joe Ford.

It is an axiom in electoral politics that the fate of “down-ballot” races (on the2010 county ballot these ran from sheriff through a variety of court clerkships to register of deeds) depended on what happened at the top of the ticket. Before Luttrell’s change of mind, there was no top of the ticket. The GOP might have considered itself lucky if gonzo activist Tom Guleff, who doubled as the “Joe Citizen” blogger, followed through on a floated race for mayor.

But the poll, performed by veteran consultant John Bakke with Ethridge and Associates, showed Luttrell handily defeating either Malone or Ford. And suddenly, with Luttrell converted to running, the headless party had itself a top of the ticket.

The Democrats would gain one, too, with Ford’s victory over an under-funded Malone in the May primary, and, though the interim mayor could legitimately claim later on that he had done a “great job” as the county’s chief executive, he could never divest himself of the onus of having gone back on a pledge to his then fellow commissioners, rendered as a condition of their naming him interim mayor, not to seek a regular term as mayor.

The rude fact, too, was that the Democratic down-ballot contained too many names that were retreads of former elections and, in fact, of former eras. This was largely the consequence of the low-turnout party primaries of May, when name recognition per se was likely a determining factor. Some of the names, both new and old, bore a tarnish which the GOP was not slow to publicize.

When Gale Jones Carson, co-coordinator of the party’s general election campaign, advised party cadres at a post-primary rally to “hold their noses,” if need be, to vote for some of the nominees, she meant that as advice to potentially embittered losers. That did not prevent the thought’s becoming a meme of sorts, both for the opposition and for wavering Democrats.

The Democrats took their shots, too — sometimes effectively, as when Republican Sheriff’s candidate Bill Oldham, on leave from his job as chief deputy, was compelled to resign altogether because of publicity about possible Hatch Act violations.

But there was the aforementioned matter of those reluctant Democrats, and they may have proved decisive. As late as an election-eve rally at Hunt Phelan, at which Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter was coaxed to appear alongside mayoral nominee Ford, there were people in the crowd who confided that they intended to stray from the party ticket in this or that instance.

The problem was more general than any shortcomings associated with the local Democratic slate, and it transcended even the later allegations that white Democrats — a declining breed, in any case — were motivated to apostasy by concerns, expressed or unexpressed, having to do with race. (Not to debunk the idea, but Regina Newman, arguably an exemplary Trustee, went down to defeat with the rest of the Democrats, despite being every bit as white as her opponent, while first-timer Paul Boyd, a black Republican candidate for Probate Court clerk, was a winner along with his white running mates.)

Again, the problem is more general: Observe the new TV ads, effective in their way, produced for gubernatorial nominee McWherter and Roy Herron, the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 8th District. You will look in vain for any use of the word “Democrat” as a signifier; Nor, for that matter, is there any reference, implied or otherwise, to Democratic periods, principles, or personalities of the past or present — though McWherter does note his endorsement by Governor Phil Bredesen, a famously non-partisan administrator in his own right, a Democrat who basically commenced to enact the pre-existing Republican platform upon his first election in 2002.

McWherter presents himself as a problem-solver, a Mr. Fixit, while Herron, who is up against ultra-Tea Partier Republican Stephen Fincher, might be taken for a Republican himself. He describes himself as a “truck-driving, shotgun-shooting, Bible-reading, crime-fighting, family-loving country boy.” He opposes “bailouts” and “bad trade deals like NAFTA,” and he has previously named “fiscal insolvency” as the country’s foremost problem. All that is lacking is the ritual denunciations of the names “Obama” and “Pelosi” that his opponent is sure to employ.

In vain has linguistic philosopher George Lakoff noted, in his various treatises on the “framing” of ideological debates, how adopting the memes and code words of the opposition reinforces the opposition, not oneself, and defaults on the obligation to present an alternate vision or version of reality.

So long as Democrats are content to run as “me-too” or more moderate Republicans, they may be doomed to see the value of the party brand continue to erode. It is a mirror image of the reality pinpointed in 1964 by Ur-conservative Barry Goldwater, who turned out to be only slightly ahead of his time.

Absent general belief in the intrinsic value of a party label, or loyalty to its distinctiveness, not even the best Get-Out-the-Vote organization is likely to succeed, either among white voters or among black voters or among voters of any ethnicity whatsoever. Indeed, no such GOTV organization is likely to exist in any real way. What we have here is a failure to communicate — indeed, a lack of anything to communicate.

(To be continued)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

"Making the Flag Fly Right": Part One of Thoughts on the August 5 Outcome

Posted By on Sat, Aug 7, 2010 at 9:25 AM

See also Part Two of Thoughts on the August 5 Outcome: "Failure to Communicate">

man_with_flag.jpg
One fact unites all the diverse threads of the elections that concluded on August 5: High Republican turnout, plus suppressed black Democratic turnout.

And no, I’m not getting into conspiracy theories about the voter-roll snafu that occurred Thursday and forced a few thousand citizens to work hard in order to avoid being disenfranchised. Apropos that: I’m not a guillotiner, but somebody’s head needs to roll. Feeding wrong voter data into the county rolls, system-wide? That’s inexcusable! And it’s hard to blame Van Turner, Randy Wade, and other affected Democrats who are (a) suspicious; and (b) ready to litigate.

I’m actually referring to the (apparently) lower-than-usual voluntary turnout of African American Democrats. That may be anecdotal, or it may be factual. I’m assuming the latter. What I do know, from personal observation (an hour-long line at my Cordova poll at quitting time on election eve!), is that whites and Republicans (somewhat overlapping categories) turned out in droves.

That accounts for the Republican sweep of countywide offices. It accounts for the judgeship results — except for Lorrie Ridder, an extremely hard-working candidate, white, upscale, seemingly very well liked and respected, who had money and good ads (by Stephen Reid), who was beaten by Gina Higgins (to be sure, another well-liked and respected and hard-working candidate), who was African American.

But let’s save the Ridder riddle for later. Back to the one dominating fact of the election. Republicans turned out! Their turnout even accounted — via some much ballyhooed crossover — for a good deal of Cohen’s 4 to 1 margin over Herenton. They failed to oust County Commissioner Steve Mulroy because (a) the 5th District incumbent is a driven, relentless, multi-tasking, highly personable, manifestly able performer, and(b) his opponent, the respected physician Rolando Toyos, was basically an Unknown Quantity politically and a no-show at active campaigning. That race was so idiosyncratic as to actually lie outside the curve.

So, ironically, in the year of the Second Great Republican Sweep in Shelby County (the first was in 1994), the Democrats would keep the 5th District swing seat on the county commission and hold their majority. (Don’t think this won’t turn out to be consequential!)

One of the members of that new commission (which is likely to be more ideologically riven than most of those in the recent past) is Chris Thomas, who gave up his Probate Court clerkship, presumably because of handwriting on the wall — regarding Democrats and demographics — that turned out to be written in disappearing ink. So general was that feeling that Paul Boyd, a likeable, back-bench GOP activist, and an African American to boot, claimed the Republican nomination for Probate for the asking. (Hell, Arnold Weiner could have won that seat!)

It was no secret that the Democrats needed a figure of 60 percent Democratic primary turnout to feel comfortable. By dint of some last-minute effort they were able to get their percentage of early voting up to 56 percent. But they also needed a major effort on Election Day, August 5, to close the rest of the gap, and it would seem that they were out-done by the Republicans on Thursday.

The falloff in the African-American vote was just modest enough, given a highly galvanized GOP effort, to determine the outcome.

And what happened? First, there was no one candidate or cause that could focus an intense countywide(or citywide or district-wide) effort involving blacks up and down the social constellation — certainly not Herenton with an under-funded erratic effort based on a slogan — “Just One” — that presupposed the existence of a barrier that had vanished long ago.

Here’s the reality: After Harold Ford Sr.’s congressional victory in 1974 and Herenton’s mayoral triumph in 1991, blacks in Memphis have been well aware that they can elect one of their own any time they choose. It was their call, not whites’, to reject Nikki Tinker and prefer Cohen so overwhelmingly in 2008. In that context, Herenton’s slogan was both irrelevant and insulting.

Both the white and black populations are now performance-oriented. White fans support and enthusiastically embrace the basically all-black basketball teams of the University of Memphis; black fans joined white fans in accepting and enthusiastically embracing (for better and for worse)the outcome-based coaching regime of John Calipari.

It was clear to the blacks of the 9th District that Cohen had been something of a whiz in Congress and that he had crossed the t’s and dotted the I’s that mattered to them. All other things being equal, they might have come out for Herenton, sure. Things weren’t equal. Cohen was a presence and a force. Herenton’s very campaign was a riddle never answered, and his mayoral regime was remembered, correctly, as having run out of gas.

So African-American voting was at comfort level. Meanwhile, recession-weary Tea Party whites, driven by resentments even they could not precisely name, came out to the polls to make their statement, such as it was, choosing the Republicans, the self-proclaimed party of “less government, lower taxes,” as their medium.

The one candidate who perfectly expressed the amorphousness of such protest was the perennial candidate Basil Marceaux, a candidate for governor this year, whose campaign promises included one to “make the flag fly right.” And the organized Republican Party faithful themselves were at fever pitch, initially motivated by the survival instinct and later by glimpsing the prospect of a miracle finish.

(To Be Continued)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Lots of Grins at Oldham-for-Sheriff HQ

Posted By on Fri, Aug 6, 2010 at 7:16 PM

Bill_Oldham_mug_2.jpg
To anyone who predicted that shifting demographics spelled the end of Republican electoral dominance in Shelby County: the subjects of that prediction apparently did not get the message. Even before the GOP's countywide sweep became apparent, the mood at Republican nominee Bill Oldham's headquarters in East Memphis was jubilant. Dining on pizza and pasta from Garibaldi's, the crowd of about 150 supporters erupted in cheers each time Oldham's ebullient daughter, Katie Fik, took to the podium to read the current vote totals.

As numbers continued to show Oldham with a comfortable lead, attention turned to the other county races. About a dozen supporters watched the figures from the Election Commission roll in at one side of the room, heads nodding in approval with each update of the screen. At another monitor, a small group of about twenty stopped momentarily to watch the spectacle of former mayor Willie Herenton conceding the election to Congressman Steve Cohen.

Though the sound was off and his words could not be heard, the sight of the former mayor's historic concession nevertheless commanded the attention of anyone who chanced to be passing by.

Finally, at ten o'clock, once nearly all the precincts had reported, the Sheriff-elect appeared onstage, surrounded by at least twenty family members, all of whom, it seemed, had worked on the campaign on some capacity or another. Indeed, when delivering the exordium of thank-you's customary to all such political speeches, Oldham took nearly a full minute to recite the names of those family members who volunteered, concluding to laughter and applause, "As you can see, I got quite a few votes right here."

Curiously, when it came time to thank what Oldham referred to as "my management team," he did not mention the young Robert Callahan at all, who was introduced to this reporter as the campaign director, but instead singled out Jeff Sullivan, a former aide to Democratic State Senator Jim Kyle and onetime Democratic candidate for House District 89.
It is worth noting here that during that special election in 2003, Sullivan, who declined to be interviewed, referring to himself as "a low-key guy," was the target of an intense and vigorous residency challenge on the part of none other than Congressman Steve Cohen, at the time a state senator acting on behalf of candidate Beverly Marrero. This marks the second time the two men have found themselves on opposite sides of a heated election, as Cohen campaigned nearly as hard for Oldham's opponent, Democratic nominee Randy Wade, as he did for himself.

Whoever was in fact running the campaign, they were no doubt helped considerably by the seemingly unlimited volunteer manpower provided by the extended Oldham clan, along with the families of his friends and supporters. With only three paid staff to run a countywide campaign, the remaining force of Oldham's sizable crew were unpaid volunteers, most of whom were related to one another in some fashion. "At least 40 family members were involved," according to Katie Fik. "I've never seen my mother work so hard in my entire life."

Nor was hers the only family putting in time for the candidate. Eddie Barton, a volunteer and supporter, described how he, his wife, and his sons all put in work for the campaign. "Nobody got anything out of it. We don't expect anything out of it. We did it because he's an honest man, and he's a good man."

This was a notion seconded by Callahan, who lauded his candidate's decision to resign from his position as Chief Deputy in order to avoid a possible violation of the Hatch Act, which forbids federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity. Because the Shelby County Sheriff's Office receives federal money, some interpretations of the law have held that a deputy would technically fall under its scope. Oldham does not believe he would have been offered a job under a Wade administration ("Absolutely not!"); thus Callahan described the move as "a sacrifice for the citizens of Shelby County."

"We could have gone through a long process of contesting that, at which time if [the Election Commission] found against me, there could have been some monies that the county would have had to have paid," Oldham said. "I did not want to put our campaign through that process, I did not want to risk the citizens of Shelby County possibly having to pay for that, so I did what was right, and I retired."

Near the end of the night, as the chairs were being folded and the food put away, interim County Mayor Joe Ford made a congratulatory appearance, having just done the same at Luttrell headquarters to a thunderous ovation. Ford was no less well-received at Oldham headquarters, earning a loud hurrah as he entered the room.
Absent from this scene was opponent Randy Wade, from whom Oldham reported he had not yet received a phone call.

As it turned out, Wade had not conceded the election. "No, I did not concede," he announced, Cohen at his side, to a small group of supporters who lingered behind late into the night at Minglewood Hall, the scene of Cohen’s victory party. "We don't know how many provisional ballots there are," he continued, "and so we want to wait until [the Election Commission] signs off on that, and if it comes back that we did not win, then I will be the first to humbly and professionally concede."

-- Derek Haire

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