Republicans beat back a slew of Democratic amendments, and the Senate voted 22-10 to delay implementation of the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act until the 2012 elections. Senators said they wanted to relieve county election officials of the cost of buying paper ballots.
With great fanfare, Republicans and Democrats alike embraced this law in 2008 to eliminate the hazards of paperless, unverified electronic voting. In Tennessee, 93 of 95 counties use touch-screen machines with no paper trail to verify results. The Voter Confidence Act called for replacing these by the 2010 elections with paper ballots to be marked by voters and then read by optical scanners--a system allowing for recounts and audits of the actual tallies.
"This may not be motherhood and apple pie, but it's pretty close," said Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden.
But despite the indisputable benefit of paper ballots, many election officials always have resisted the switch. Mainly, they argue 2010's too soon to make a smooth transition, and they contend the cost of paper ballots runs in the millions of dollars. When Republicans took over the legislature last year, by law they also gained control of the state's election machinery and immediately sided with county officials fighting to delay the law.
"The current recession has caused this body to make painful cuts to our state budget. Our counties are no different. They simply cannot afford additional mandated cost," Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said.
Some Democrats are certain the GOP is up to some kind of election chicanery--they just can't figure out exactly how it might go down--but Senate Republicans denied today they have any mischief in mind.
"This not a partisan issue that we debate here today," Ketron said. "This is an issue about doing the right thing using commonsense and making sure that the taxpayers of this state are protected as well as the purity of the ballot box, which is important to each and every one of us."
With the vote, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the Senate speaker, made good on his pledge to delay this law on the first day of the session. Such an effort cleared the House last year but narrowly failed in the Senate on the session's last day. Two Republicans were absent that day or it would have passed then. After today's vote, the legislature prepared to enter into special session on education reform.Update: The roll call from Liberadio(!) Update II: House Democratic leader Gary Odom says, "Secretary of State Tre Hargett was successful today in undoing the 2008 Tennessee Voter Confidence Act. Secretary Hargett has worked hard to make certain there will be no paper trail to recount votes in the 2010 elections. I believe it important that we have an election process that makes certain every vote is counted and counted accurately. It is a sad day in Tennessee."