Thursday, March 23, 2006

TN Election Commissioners Asked to Resign

Cheatham County Election Commissioners asked to resign
Administrator Sandra Smith takes retirement

By Gary Burton; The Ashland City Times
Published: Wednesday, 03/22/06

NASHVILLE - The Cheatham County Election Commission is being asked to resign or show just cause to the state why the five members should not be removed from their positions.

An investigation by the Tennessee Election Commission concluded Tuesday with Brook Thompson, state coordinator of elections, informing state election commissioners with the results of the probe.
Commissioners discovered several problems with local voting including:
  • Workers were told to make the number of voter applications and ballots match - even if the numbers were off.
  • Poll workers were instructed by the election administrator to cast fraudulent ballots if the applications and voting booth activations did not match, and
  • The election administrator had possession of both keys to ballot boxes during an election.
I’ve lost confidence in the Cheatham County Election Commission,” Thompson said. “This is not a fun thing to do.

Investigators were tipped-off about irregularities in the November 2004 election by a former election office worker. Thompson said there were about 34 fraudulent votes cast in the November 2004 election, but did not feel there were enough to affect any elections.

Thompson said Beth Henry-Robinson, an assistant in his office, found several problems with Cheatham County election operations.

First of all, if at the end of a day's vote, the number of applications failed to agree with the number of votes, poll workers were instructed by the election administrator to ‘make them match,’” Thompson said.

Sandra Smith served as election administrator for the last 23 years until she retired as of Monday - citing her mother's health as the reason for her departure. Last week, Smith said she wanted to retire rather than cause problems for the election office.

If something is wrong in this office and it was my fault, I just feel like the best thing to do is leave,” she said. “I don't want something I may have done to hurt this office, the people who work here or my family.” Smith said in an interview Tuesday that one of the ballot box keys was in her desk drawer, but did not know what to do with it.

We always tried to give the keys to a Democratic and Republican chairman during the elections,” she said. “On the occasion the commission is talking about, the Democratic chairman had one of the keys, but the Republican chairman was not available. The state didn’t tell me what I was supposed to do at that point, but I guess I should have asked more questions.

Thompson said poll workers were also told to cast fraudulent votes if the votes did not match.

Next, on the first day of early voting, if the number of applicants exceeded the activation of the poll booth, workers were directed to cast votes to balance the votes,” Thompson said.

Thompson also told commissioners that the keys to the ballot boxes, normally held by the Democratic and Republican members of the Cheatham County Commission, were both kept in Smith's possession.

This is a direct violation of the law,” Thompson added.

State commissioners agreed to send a letter to the local commissioners requesting that they either attend the next meeting in Nashville April 18 for a “just cause hearing” to defend themselves or resign from their positions.

This is a very serious situation,” said Tom Wheeler, state commission chairman. “Very serious.” He also informed the state commissioners that elections in the county were approaching and legislators would be advised to be prepared if local commissioners all resigned at once and replacements needed to be appointed.

Robert D. Perry, chairman of the Cheatham County Election Commission, said the move by the state would not affect the group’s newest member.

The other four members of the local election commission could not be contacted for comment Tuesday before press time.

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