By Bernie Ellis and Margie Parsley

Tennessee went from being one of the 12 worst states for election security to one of the 18 most secure.

We should all be proud of that accomplishment. It took us three years of study, hard work and perseverance to come to the conclusion that our elections are too important to be left to unverifiable direct record electronic machines (DREs) that are easy to hack and impossible to audit.

The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations recommended the move to paper ballots, as did the legislature’s Joint Committee on Voter Confidence. Many newspapers around the state supported this legislation. It was truly a nonpartisan effort, and all Tennesseans -- regardless of political party -- who want our votes to be counted as they are cast, cheered the success.

On June 5, 2008, more than a dozen Tennessee citizens who had worked hard to help save our democracy joined Gov. Bredesen on the podium when he signed the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act (TVCA). On that day, the Governor said: “The right to vote is one of the cornerstones of our democracy, and every voter deserves the 100 percent assurance that his or her vote will be counted. I am proud that Tennessee is taking a big step forward in improving voter confidence."

We were proud too, and shared the Governor’s belief that the TVCA had made our elections safer and more secure for all citizens. But that was then. This is now.

Over the past month, our legislators have been given extremely high cost estimates concerning the shift to paper ballots and routine audits as an excuse for delaying TVCA implementation until 2012. Some of these “extra cost” estimates would be laughable if they were not so dangerous.

One county estimated it would cost them $70,000 “extra” to store paper ballots that would not fill a single filing cabinet. Another county estimated it would cost almost $40,000 “extra” to conduct the routine two-hour training class for poll workers. Several counties estimated it would cost $10,000-$20,000 “extra” to audit a few hundred votes in a single precinct; costs that would average out to more than $50 per ballot.

The truth is, voting with paper ballots/optical scan machines are 30-40 percent less expensive than voting on the unverifiable DREs. That is because a single optical scan machine can do the work of more than 10 DREs, reducing both the time it takes citizens to vote and reducing the unnecessary expense of storing, transporting, programming, testing and retesting so many unneeded DREs. Studies in North Carolina, Maryland and Florida have confirmed these savings.

It is important that we implement the TVCA as intended before the 2010 elections. Tennessee took a big step forward last year in improving voter confidence with the TVCA. There are no good arguments for delaying this vital law. Democracy delayed is democracy denied.
Ellis is an organizer for Gathering To Save Our Democracy. Parsley is the state action chair of the League of Women Voters.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Tennessee Editorial Forum. 4/09