Shelby County residents have filed a lawsuit against their local government in an effort to purchase new voting machines. The local catch: The residents are looking to get rid of the same machines Blount County just elected to purchase.
Shelby County purchased paperless voting machines around 2006. Residents of the county are now moving to get paper-backed voting machines, a move several local governments are taking, said Liz Howard, former deputy commissioner of elections in Virginia.
Howard was part of an amicus brief on behalf of Shelby County residents.
“The big issue if you don’t have a paper trail is you can’t go back to that paper record and verify that outcome,” Howard said.
Locally, Election Commissioner Susan Knopf during September’s Blount County Commission meeting addressed the concern of not having a paper trail.
Knopf, along with a representative from Harp Enterprises, the company that makes the new voting equipment, fielded numerous questions and concerns from the public and commissioners on the new equipment.
Several commissioners questioned the quality of paperless machines after receiving information from an advocacy group denouncing them.
Knopf and the Harp Enterprises representative assured commissioners the machines have been found to be effective even though there is no paper trail.
“There is absolutely no evidence that any electronic voting equipment has been compromised in an election,” the representative said.
The commission voted, almost unanimously, to allocate $1,219,370 to purchase new machines for Blount County.
But similar machines have been a topic of controversy in recent years.
South Carolina, Howard said, recently moved to have the state government choose and pay for voting machines after counties elected to have paperless machines.
Virginia, the state in which Howard served, recently decentralized the machines because many people claimed they were unconstitutional.
“One of the claims is that it’s a violation of their due process,” Howard said. “The government can’t take away your right to property without due process of the law. The fact that these machines don’t provide a paper trail is a violation of that.”
Tennessee is one of eight states that still have counties using paperless voting machines, Howard said.
Now, after this lawsuit, Shelby County may be changing their stance.
The Brennan Center for Justice, an organization that looks to defend the constitution, recently filed an amicus brief with the residents of Shelby County who were the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Some 13 current and former election officials filed this brief stating that they sided with the plaintiffs in purchasing voting machines that provided a paper trail.
The Shelby County suit was recently sent to the Court of Appeals after the court ruled “the potential harm was too speculative,” Howard said.
Shelby County is not the only large county in Tennessee to move to paper-backed machines. A representative at the Knox County Election Commission told The Daily Times the county will move to paper-backed machines by the 2020 presidential election.
As for Blount County, Knopf assures residents paperless voting machines are not compromised.
“The only bad thing about the machines would be if we didn’t get them,” Knopf said.