Trying the Case 

We welcome last week’s announcement from Chancellor Arnold Goldin, the inheritor of two suits previously filed in Chancery Court, that he will hold trial, beginning October 5th — that’s week after next — on the matter of alleged irregularities in the August 5th county election. We welcome last week’s announcement from Chancellor Arnold Goldin, the inheritor of two suits previously filed in Chancery Court, that he will hold trial, beginning October 5th — that’s week after next — on the matter of alleged irregularities in the August 5th county election.

We would hope that the forthcoming trial resolves once and for all several issues — the principal one being whether the alleged irregularities in the election process, which saw the entire slate of Democratic candidates for countywide offices defeated by their Republican opponents, were enough to render the results of that election “incurably uncertain.”

Among the important ancillary issues are whether the dozen or so irregularities alleged by the litigants actually occurred (at least to the extent argued by the litigants); whether any or all were material to the outcome; and, most controversially, whether they were intentional.

Any verdict rendered on narrowly legal grounds will doubtless be considered disappointing by disputants on either side of the case, and we, too, would hope that insight into current weaknesses in our election system and evidence suggesting needed reforms would emerge from the trial process. But we trust in the acumen and integrity of Chancellor Goldin, who has dealt handily with prior cases that had controversial public import. We trust that, during actual trial of the case, the personnel and defenders of the Shelby County Election Commission will be more forthcoming than heretofore concerning some of the problems alleged — the so-called ghost race programmed into the election system; the disparity between the number of participating voters and the seemingly larger number of ballots cast; and the actual purposes for which a “manual override” function in the computer hardware was employed.

We also hope that the trial will provide a basis for evaluating claims made by opponents of Diebold election machinery that the Diebold voting machines used in Shelby County are rife with error and imprecision, inherently so. Depending on how it goes and what is revealed, the trial might also provide some incentive for the Tennessee legislature to proceed with plans, deferred by the 2010 General Assembly, to revamp the state election process with opti-scan machinery. Proponents of opti-scan machines allege that their provision of a “paper trail” provides a sounder basis than at present for the verification of election results. Finally, we are concerned about an apparent “rush to judgment” on the part of the litigants and their supporters, some of whom have conjured up and exploited charges of outright election thievery on the basis of little or no proven evidence. At this point, we have no reason to doubt the integrity of either the Republicans or the Democrats on the Election Commission. Nor the civil servants of the commission’s staff. And we hope, frankly, that some of the overly partisan and inflammatory rhetoric can be suspended. We are fortunate that our system provides the opportunity to fully assess the process and means by which our leaders and public officials are chosen. In that sense, the forthcoming trial will serve a broad and socially useful function. We would hope that the forthcoming trial resolves once and for all several issues — the principal one being whether the alleged irregularities in the election process, which saw the entire slate of Democratic candidates for countywide offices defeated by their Republican opponents, were enough to render the results of that election “incurably uncertain.” Among the important ancillary issues are whether the dozen or so irregularities alleged by the litigants actually occurred (at least to the extent argued by the litigants); whether any or all were material to the outcome; and, most controversially, whether they were intentional. Any verdict rendered on narrowly legal grounds will doubtless be considered disappointing by disputants on either side of the case, and we, too, would hope that insight into current weaknesses in our election system and evidence suggesting needed reforms would emerge from the trial process. But we trust in the acumen and integrity of Chancellor Goldin, who has dealt handily with prior cases that had controversial public import. We trust that, during actual trial of the case, the personnel and defenders of the Shelby County Election Commission will be more forthcoming than heretofore concerning some of the problems alleged — the so-called ghost race programmed into the election system; the disparity between the number of participating voters and the seemingly larger number of ballots cast; and the actual purposes for which a “manual override” function in the computer hardware was employed. We also hope that the trial will provide a basis for evaluating claims made by opponents of Diebold election machinery that the Diebold voting machines used in Shelby County are rife with error and imprecision, inherently so. Depending on how it goes and what is revealed, the trial might also provide some incentive for the Tennessee legislature to proceed with plans, deferred by the 2010 General Assembly, to revamp the state election process with opti-scan machinery. Proponents of opti-scan machines allege that their provision of a “paper trail” provides a sounder basis than at present for the verification of election results. Finally, we are concerned about an apparent “rush to judgment” on the part of the litigants and their supporters, some of whom have conjured up and exploited charges of outright election thievery on the basis of little or no proven evidence. At this point, we have no reason to doubt the integrity of either the Republicans or the Democrats on the Election Commission. Nor the civil servants of the commission’s staff. And we hope, frankly, that some of the overly partisan and inflammatory rhetoric can be suspended. We are fortunate that our system provides the opportunity to fully assess the process and means by which our leaders and public officials are chosen. In that sense, the forthcoming trial will serve a broad and socially useful function.

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