By TRE HARGETTTennessee Secretary of State
Over the last two weeks, SB 305/HB 295 which delays the implementation of the Voter Confidence Act of 2007 from 2010 to 2012 was heard in both Senate and House Committees. As Tennessee’s Secretary of State, I believe this legislation is vital to help ensure the economic stability of local governments and the overall integrity of the state election process itself.
The Voter Confidence Act, which was enacted into law last year, requires full implementation by the 2010 gubernatorial election. The Act mandates the use of precinct based optical scan systems rather than the direct record electronic machines currently used by 93 out of 95 Tennessee counties. Additionally, the Act requires a hand count audit of 3 percent of the votes cast in 3 percent of the precincts within each county. Critics suggest that delaying the implementation of the Voter Confidence Act is simply a partisan maneuver which impedes on the democratic process. They argue that costs associated with this change will be covered with pre-existing federal funds.
However, delaying implementation is not a political decision. It is one of common sense. The federal funds referred to by opponents of SB 305/HB 295 provide funding only for optical scan machines and not other costs associated with the change. County mayors, both Democrat and Republican, determined that $11.7 million would be the additional cost incurred by their respective counties to properly implement the Voter Confidence Act in 2010. This expense will force many counties to increase property taxes. Due to this burdensome expense, county executives statewide continue to express their concerns about the Act.
Equally important is the certification for any new optical scan systems. The Act specifies that voting equipment must be certified to the Election Assistance Commission’s 2005 Standards. Currently, there aren’t any optical scan systems certified under these requirements, and there are no vendors in Tennessee who have sought the required certification. Certification of the new machines will help ensure that election hardware and software cannot, and will not, be tampered with. This assurance is essential to the integrity of the election process.
The Voter Confidence Act of 2007 was well-intentioned and proposed to ensure fair and impartial elections in Tennessee. However, the timing of its implementation is at issue. Delaying implementation of the Act until 2012 will provide the flexibility to make necessary changes without placing a financial burden on local governments and without wastefully spending state funds on non-certified equipment. Delaying implementation of the Voter Confidence Act is not a political decision. It is a necessity given the current circumstances.