In case it hadn't been obvious beforehand, a sequence of events early this week made it clear that an aura of serious partisan distrust pervaded the political environment of Shelby County just prior to Thursday's county general election and state and federal primaries. On Monday, there was the Shelby County Commission's Democrats-only vote (7-to-0, with Republicans abstaining) calling for federal monitors of this week's election, followed a day later by a scathing denial of major problems in the election process by Robert Meyers, the Republican chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission.
Speaking to members of the Memphis Rotary Club on Tuesday, Meyers addressed several questions brought up by Democrats during several crises that have bedeviled the Election Commission over the past few years. "Anybody who says there are problems with machines doesn't know what they're talking about," said Meyers, who insisted that neither the voting machines themselves nor the computers used for voter registration had manifested any significant flaws. He acknowledged there had been some "connectivity" problems once, due to a transmission wire; that was all.
We are certain that Dr. Joe Weinberg, an all-but-full-time critic of the Diebold machines in use throughout the county, would demur, as he has repeatedly over the years.
The chairman did say that he had no objection to converting to Opti-Scan machines, which can generate a fail-safe paper trail and for which state funding is apparently available. "We haven't rejected that," he said, but suggested other issues had priority, like that of perfecting the voter-registeration process.
Meyers acknowledged there had been internal problems in establishing accurate precinct lines for the August 2012 election and that, along with other complications, these had resulted in a judicial decision, currently under appeal, invalidating a Shelby County Schools board election that year. But he contended that the problem of bad precinct lines had been discovered and then corrected internally, by the commission in tandem with the office of administrator Richard Holden. As we recall, however, the problem was first made public by outcries from citizens like David Holt, who were given wrong ballots. The problem was later diagnosed in formidable detail by Weinberg and blogger Steve Ross.
Meyers was reminded by a Rotarian questioner of adverse reports on Election Commission activities — from an internal Shelby County government audit and from a study initiated by the state that uncovered a lack of timeliness on the commission's part in dealing with redistricting data in 2012. Again, the chairman said these issues had been corrected.
The key to long-term security in elections lies in the way the commission is constructed, with members from both the Republican and Democratic parties, Meyers contended. (The current state-prescribed ratio, in Shelby County, as in the state's other 94 counties, is three Republicans and two Democrats, in recognition that the GOP is now the state's majority party in the General Assembly.)
"They are there to watch each other," said Meyers, and he offered a mock "hurrah" at the idea of federal monitors joining in the watch, along with poll-watchers from both parties, this Thursday. "We have nothing to hide," he said firmly.
That's one Republican vote for strengthening the monitoring process, however grudgingly. No doubt genuine bipartisanship is just around the corner. Or not.