Rumors, results compelled early voting issue

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A rumor regarding early voting results compelled a long-time county official and political leader to notify the county's Election Commission to investigate the matter.
   In a letter to Election Commission Chairman Jerry K. Oliver, the former Circuit Court Clerk Luther McKeehan said he heard "rumors before the August 1 election concerning the totals of early voting already being a matter of public knowledge."
   "I felt it needed to be checked with the commission," McKeehan said. "In their position, if I got rumors to that extent, I would want to run it down to verify it in my own mind that it wasn't true."
   McKeehan's letter stated that he had heard three incumbents won early voting; one incumbent had lost, and a challenger beat a second incumbent by a few votes.
   Those rumored statistics proved to be accurate in unofficial election results released after election day, according to McKeehan's letter and the results themselves.
   State law prohibits the results of early voting to be totaled or disclosed until after all polls in the county are closed.
   Early voting was conducted in the county on Monday through Saturday from July 12 to July 27. Election day was August 1.
   McKeehan said he had no specific information on how the rumors started or any specific knowledge of receiving any voting totals.
   McKeehan further stated in his letter that, "the results of early voting did not turn out close enough to what I heard the day before the election to cause me to be concerned enough to contact Commissioner Phil Isaacs after the election".
   The state Coordinator of Elections Brook Thompson confirmed last week his office was reviewing the complaint concerning rumors about early voting results.
   McKeehan -- who recently stepped down as chairman of the Carter County Republican Party -- also wrote to the commission that he had never received notice from the commission as to the place and time when vote totals would be removed from voting machines as required by state law.
   State law requires notice be given to all candidates and political parties of the removal of vote totals from the machines.
   Representatives of both political parties and the media may inspect voting machines to assess if the machines are working properly, according to state law.
   Carter County employs the MicroVote MV-464 voting machine in both early voting and on election day.
   "We were there for one year before the election in supporting and training," said Chris Ortiz, vice president of customer service with the Micro Vote company in Milford, Ind. "We give them pointers and go along with them in the whole process.
   "We have probably 25,000 of those machines in the country. The accuracy there is the whole point of the training."
   Ortiz explained that each machine maintained an "audit trail printer" that provided a printed, random-order record of every voter. The audit trail is printed continuously during election day.
   "Every time a voter comes in, the audit trail prints the voting location. It randomly votes a continuous paper audit of every vote cast," he said. "The other side prints your tape on election night."
   Once the polls are closed on election night the machine calculates the result, prints them on hard copy, writes the CPU in the machine and writes to the cartridge itself, Ortiz said.
   Federal election law required the company also have a third device built into the machine that compiled vote totals, he added.
   The hard copy and tally tape are returned to election center. Once removed, the machine cartridges are placed into a cartridge reader that pulls the results and processes them into the system, said Ortiz.
   Ortiz said once machines read the cartridge once, they flash a warning if the cartridge is attempting to read and process data for a second time.
   "It can be read into the database one time," he said.
   Under early voting rules, the county will pull the audit trail tape, said Ortiz.
   "When those results are taken off the early voting machine they are taken and put away and should not be seen until voting night," he said.
   McKeehan said he was aware one voting machine had malfunctioned and had been shipped to the machine's manufacturer for repairs on July 8.
   The commission received another voting machine from MicroVote on July 31, according to the company's repair tag receipt.
   Ortiz was quick to note that MicroVote machines were not used in the Florida primary and election held on Sept. 10.
   The Sunshine State saw another election day debacle last week when voters complained of inability to vote in the state's gubernatorial primaries.
   Former Attorney General Janet Reno refused to concede she had lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary to Jim McBride until Tuesday.
   Reno had questioned whether votes were counted properly in some counties including Miami-Dade County because of technical problems Tuesday.
   The contested 2000 presidential race between President Bush and former Vice President Albert Gore set off a firestorm in Florida where voting issues delayed the declaration of a president-elect until December.
   Ortiz said MicroVote had machines with several Northeast Tennessee counties.
   "The training and so forth is where you get problems," Ortiz stated. "The (training) is the most important part of the system."