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.