voting

Low turnout in House District 95 early voting

Only 2,535 people cast ballots in early voting on choosing a successor to former state Rep. Mark Lovell, Shelby County Election Administrator Linda Phillips tells the Commercial Appeal. That’s 4.9 percent of registered voters in House District 95.

Of those voting early, 2,313 voted in the Republican primary and just 222 in the Democratic primary.

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Senate votes to repeal voter ‘selfie’ ban violated by Justin Timberlake

State senators voted unanimously Thursday to repeal the law Justin Timberlake famously violated last year and allow “selfie” pictures to be taken at polling places.

Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey noted in brief remarks on the Senate floor that Timberlake made “national and international news” by taking a picture of himself while voting “in my hometown of Germantown” and posting it on the Internet.

The celebrity entertainer said later he did not realize he was violating a state law, which was passed in 2015 with Kelsey as Senate sponsor. He was not prosecuted.

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West TN alderman indicted for voter fraud

News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

MEMPHIS – An investigation by Special Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has resulted in the indictment of a Moscow City Alderman on charges of violating election laws. 

At the request of 25th District Attorney General Mike Dunavant, on November 1, 2016, TBI Special Agents began investigating Virgil Jones on complaints of election law fraud. Jones is an Alderman for the city of Moscow, in Fayette County. During the course of the investigation, Agents developed information that while Jones does own property in Moscow, his actual residence is in Whiteville, in Hardeman County, and he listed the fraudulent address on elections records for the purpose of running for the Alderman position. Additionally, a review of election records indicates that while Jones has lived in Whiteville, he has been a registered voter in Moscow and has voted there for numerous elections.

On Monday, the Fayette County Grand Jury returned indictments charging  Virgil Jones (DOB 8/11/1964) with one count of False Entry on Official Registration or Election Document, one count of Perjury and False Statement on Official Election Documents, and five counts of Voter Fraud. Jones turned himself in to TBI Special Agents on Tuesday and was booked into the Fayette County Jail. His bond was set at $10,000.

Rep. Favors in House floor speech: Let my 94-year-old mother vote

State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, celebrated her mother’s 94th birthday on the House floor Thursday by pointedly telling the GOP-controlled chamber her mother can’t vote in Tennessee because of a 2011 law, reports the Times-Free Press.

“She taught school until well into her 70s and was always civically engaged,” Favors said. “Now she’s disheartened because she’s one of those individuals who was never issued a birth certificate.”

As a result, Favors said, her mother is “unable to obtain a photo identification license so that she can vote” under state law. “She loves Tennessee and is a citizen. And we hope she will be afforded the opportunity to vote before she transitions from this life.”

Favors said it’s not just her mother who has problems. A number of Tennessee senior citizens face similar issues, which is why she is offering a bill to remedy the situation, the lawmaker said.

She said when her grandmother gave birth to her mother back in 1923, it wasn’t in a hospital. Family members and neighbors attended the birth.

“They wouldn’t even let us in the hospital then,” said Favors, who is black. “It wasn’t even a midwife.”

There are a dwindling number of other Tennessee seniors facing similar problems, she said.

Favors’ bill (HB184)is pending in the House Local Government Subcommittee. It seeks to make it easier for Tennesseans age 65 and older to meet requirements to obtain official photo identification issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

The safety department issues non-driver’s license photo IDs as well as driver’s licenses. Those and other state ID, like a handgun-carry license or federally issued photo ID such as a passport, are required to show at Tennessee polls under the voter ID law passed after Republicans assumed control of the entire General Assembly six years ago.

On voter fraud: A federal indictment; reward bill gets House sub OK

A federal indictment accuses an alleged Monroe County marijuana dealer and a Loudon County man of paying 13 people for their votes in the 2014 U.S. Senate primary election. Meanwhile, a House subcommittee Tuesday approved a bill that would provide a $5,000 reward to persons who provides information leading to a conviction for voter fraud.

From the News Sentinel:

Betty Jane Best and Brian Keith “Wormy” Hodge were arraigned Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley Jr. in U.S. District Court on a 14-count indictment charging the duo with conspiracy to buy votes and 13 counts of actually paying for the votes in the August 2014 U.S. Senate primary in Monroe County.

Best, who is also known as Betty Hawkins, is already under indictment in Monroe County on charges she sold marijuana. Her relationship to Hodge, who listed an address in Loudon County in court records, is unknown.

…According to the indictment, Best and Hodge conspired “with others known and unknown” to the grand jury – standard language in a conspiracy case – to buy votes in the primary that would leave U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander as the Republican candidate and veteran attorney Gordon Ball as the Democratic candidate in the November general election. Alexander bested Ball (in the general election).

The indictment does not indicate which candidate or candidates benefited from the vote buying or the price paid. It does list the 13 individuals who allegedly received the money.

The voter fraud reward bill (HB686), sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, was approved on voice vote Tuesday in the House Local Government Subcommittee. The measure raises the fine for those convicted of voter fraud by $5,000 while providing a reward of the same amount to persons providing information leading to a conviction.

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AG says no constitutional problem with prosecuting Justin Timberlake (well, not explicitly)

Attorney General Herbert Slatery has formally opined that the 2015 Tennessee law prohibiting the taking of pictures inside a voting booth does not violate the state for federal constitutions.

The opinion came in response to a request from state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who has announced he will push for repeal of the law in the 2017 legislative session. Hardaway’s announcement came after entertainer Justin Timberlake made a “selfie” while casting an early vote in Germantown that was posted on social media to be seen by millions nationwide.

Timberlake, of course, was not prosecuted for his violation of the misdemeanor offense, punishable typically by a $50 fine and (theoretically) up to 30 days in jail… and said he was unaware of the law. (Note: Previous posts HERE and, most recently, HERE.

Excerpt from the opinion:

The interior of a polling place is a nonpublic forum.  The government may, without violating either the U.S. or the Tennessee Constitution, regulate speech and expressive conduct in a nonpublic forum as long as the regulation is reasonable in light of that forum’s purpose.  The prohibitions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-142 are content-neutral regulations that are reasonable in light of the purposes of a polling place, which include (1) ensuring privacy of the ballot, speed and efficiency of the voting process, and integrity of the election, and (2) preventing disruption and distraction for voters, voter intimidation, and interference and fraud in the balloting process.

The full opinion is HERE.

Why is TN top state in reporting voter fraud? ‘We’re probably more vigilant’

The New York Times reports making a survey of all 50 states for cases of voter fraud during the November election and finding “next to none” overall. The article says Tennessee, however, was at the top of the national list with “40 credible allegations out of some 4.3 million primary and general election votes.”

So why does Tennessee have the highest number of cases? WPLN asked and reported:

Mark Goins, the state’s director of elections, believes it’s because officials here are looking harder.

“I think we’re probably more vigilant,” he says. “It’s something that we have focused on, somewhat. We’ve encouraged the counties to look for these things.”

Goins declines to give specifics about individual allegations, saying the investigations haven’t been completed. But he says the largest number of cases involve felons who’ve been stripped of their rights to vote. Another big group are people who’ve voted outside their districts.

One case involves a suspicious absentee ballot. The allegation is that it wasn’t filled out by the person who supposedly cast it.

And one other involves a possible non-citizen who voted.

Even if all the allegations prove to be true, the 40 cases would represent less than one vote out of every 100,000 cast this year in Tennessee, according to the Times.

But Goins predicts more suspicious votes will be identified. He says officials plan to keep digging into voter records next year.

Two cases of voter fraud in Knox County?

There were two apparent cases of voter fraud in Knox County in the Nov. 8 election and the alleged offenders could face felony charges, according to the News Sentinel.

Cliff Rodgers, administrator of elections, said one case involves a woman who lied on her voter registration form about being a felon. In the second case, a man voted in Knox County after apparently lying about when he moved to Lenoir City.

“I’m turning it over to to the district attorney because he lied under oath,” Rodgers said. “That’s what we call voter fraud.”

Rodgers said people who move out of a county are allowed to vote in their previous county of residence if they moved less than 90 days before the election. The man who relocated to Lenoir City, Rodgers said, informed voting officials he had moved within that 90-day window. He was allowed to vote on a machine.

The man’s wife, however, was in a different line and she told officials the couple had moved about 18 months ago, Rodgers said. She was offered a provisional ballot to vote with, but she declined after being told her vote probably would be rejected because of the move.

… Rodgers said he has provided prosecutors with other cases since he took the post more than five years ago, but he hasn’t been subpoenaed to testify.

According to Knox County Deputy District Attorney Kyle Hixson, cases reported by Rodgers may have been prosecuted without his involvement. Prosecutors in the past have “worked closely with the Election Commission to resolve voter fraud issues,” Hixson said. “Sometimes these cases call for criminal prosecution, and sometimes they do not.”

Memory lane: When TN banned voter ‘selfies’ (before Justin Timberlake)

The legislature voted in 2015 — with relatively little attention — to outlaw the taking of photographs at the ballot box, a law that came in for substantial media attention this year after celebrity Justin Timberlake blatantly violated it by taking a ‘selfie’ while casting his vote and posting the picture on Instagram.

There’s now a movement to repeal the 2015 law in 2017, pushed by Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who followed Timberlake’s example by taking a ‘selfie’ in the voting booth (previous post HERE). While Timberlake declared in discussing the matter on national TV that  he had “no idea” that such a law was in effect, Hardaway’s blatant violation was deliberate act of civil disobedience, coupled with a contention that the law is unconstitutional and an announcement of his efforts to repeal it.

Shelby County’s district attorney has declined to prosecute Timberlake for his misdemeanor offense and, of course, is pretty certain to ignore Hardaway as a scofflaw as well.

For the record, the bill passed as SB597, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson. (It’s officially recorded as Public Chapter 315, HERE). The bill passed the Senate unanimously on the ‘consent calendar’ of non-controversial  bills, but ran into Democratic opposition on the House floor, where it was ultimately approved 75-23, all Republicans voting yes.

The House vote came after Republicans voted unanimously to kill an amendment proposed by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart that would, he said, exempt from prosecutions cases wherein a photograph was taken to document cases of voter fraud or intimidation.

The most notable media account of the House floor vote at the time is HERE. After that story was written, the minor amendment that was attached before House approval – it changed the effective date to Jan. 1, 2016 – was approved unanimously in the Senate without discussion.

The 2015 approval came after failure of a similar bill in 2013. That measure (SB803 in the 108th General Assembly) also won unanimous Senate approval with Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, as sponsor, but then died in the House, where it was sponsored by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster. Weaver said she was inspired to introduce the measure after hearing a county election commissioner complain that cell phones in voting precincts were an unwarranted distraction to other voters. (Post on House floor discussion back then, HERE.)

Rep. Hardaway defies anti-selfie law while voting; pushes repeal bill

State Rep. G.A. Hardaway made a picture of himself casting an early vote on Thursday, then announced the next day that he and other Memphis lawmakers are filing a bill to repeal the current state law that prohibits such things, reports the Memphis Daily News.

“It was a ridiculous law when we passed it,” Hardaway said later. “If we’re talking about stepping on Constitutional rights, if we are talking about getting in the way of Americans expressing themselves, then it is a law that I don’t plan to honor. We’ll take it as far as we need to take it.”

The three legislators plan to file legislation in the 2017 session of the Tennessee legislature to repeal the state law.

In the interim, Hardaway said it will be up to the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office to decide if they want to pursue a case against him.

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said earlier that her office would not be investigating nor pursue a case against entertainer Justin Timberlake, who earlier in the early voting period posted an Instagram selfie of himself at the New Bethel Church early voting location in Germantown.

Weirich said then that her office didn’t have the resources nor the desire to pursue prosecution of Timberlake.

“Our DAs either agree with us or they consider the offense to be so trivial that it won’t be prosecuted,” Hardaway said. “Either way it shouldn’t be on the books. It’s a useless law. It’s nothing but a nuisance.”