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Here's an email from election reform activist Bernie Ellis to Republican state senators, who are deciding today whether to delay the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, in which Ellis ponders the eternal question: Does Jesus favor paper ballots or touch-screen machines?
: All Republican Senators
Tennessee General Assembly
: All Tennessee voters
: Bernie Ellis, Tennessee voter and American
: When it comes to safe elections, what would Jesus do?
That is a serious question, on this day before you decide the fate of our democracy in Tennessee. It is the only question that should matter to you, that should be relevant, at this moment.
I say that because, if we were all raised right, it was (and is) the only question we have all ever needed to answer before making the large decisions in our lives (and a lot of the small ones too.)
I can also say that because, together over the past four years, we have studied (and set aside as baseless) every argument presented for delaying democracy in this state. As you make your final decision, remember that the list of excuses we heard was short, and it was entirely without merit.
We were told that changing to paper ballots read by optical scan machines would be "too costly" in these fiscally tight times. We responded by actually looking at the numbers the Secretary of State solicited from counties for his $11+ million "extra cost" estimate and illustrating the basic silliness of some of them.
* $70,000 "extra" cost in one county to store a single filing cabinet of ballots?
* $50 per ballot for hand recounts (when other states do hand recounts for a nickel)?
* $Millions$ in "extra costs" to store, maintain, deliver and use 70% fewer machines?
When we looked together at the Secretary of State's numbers, they fell apart.
Then when we looked at real experiences in other states (North Carolina, Florida, Maryland) who now do what we plan to do, we discovered well-documented savings (in the 30-40% range) in election expenses when paper ballots/opscan is used instead of unverifiable DREs. That's a $10-14 million savings every year for our counties. The "too costly" excuse holds no water.
We were also told that only opscan machines that meet "2005 voluntary federal guidelines" could be purchased under the TVCA. The problem with that excuse is that no one (including a Davidson county judge) can find anything in the TVCA that creates this hurdle. In truth, there are as many as ten precinct-based opscan machine models already on the market that will meet the TVCA requirements, opscan machines that work and work well in almost every other state, opscan machines that provide the ease and speed of rapid ballot counting with the starting and ending foundation of paper ballots that can be counted and re-counted until we get it right. This "impossibility of performance" excuse should also have evaporated by now (helped along by a direct order from a Davidson County judge)
We were also told that there wasn't possibly enough time to implement the Voter Confidence Act for the 2010 elections. From where I sit, it's true that we've had almost two years to implement the law. Instead of doing that, we have been faced with one bogus hurdle after another, one delay tactic after another, by both the former and the current administrations. While I can agree that time is of the essence, we know (and have presented to you) evidence from other states that have switched to paper ballots/opscan who have done it in six months or less. My own county election administrator (who has supervised my county's elections for more than a decade) told me it would take him about sixty days after the state authorizes the purchase of the opscan machines for him to buy them for my county and to train his office staff and precinct workers on how to use them.
Verifiable elections can still be obtained, in short order. All we need is your desire, your willingness, to make the correct decision. And, then, all we need is your courage to make that decision, secure in the right.
After four years of writing to all of you, of meeting with many of you face-to-face and testifying for honest elections in every possible venue that you have made available, we are down to the fundamental question: "what would Jesus do?" If the greatest moral Teacher of our culture were to be given voice in your caucus tomorrow, I would ask Him to pose one question:
"What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?" (Mark 8:36)
As you read this now, that question could easily be re-cast:
"What does it profit any political party to "win" elections and lose its country?"
This country was founded on faith that we could trust God to guide us. Now is one of those times to apply your faith in making this fundamental decision -- a decision to maintain the faith and trust in our government by preserving the true consent of the governed as the basis for its legitimacy.
There is only one correct, moral, patriotic decision left to make. That is to keep the Voter Confidence Act intact and on-track for 2010. Maintaining trust in our election process is the bedrock foundation for the legitimacy of our state and nation. It has worked for over 200 years here in Tennessee and it can be strengthened and preserved tomorrow. Or it can be discarded.
Two years ago, every one of you made me proud (and made millions of other Tennesseans proud) by voting unanimously - hand-in-hand with every Democrat across the aisle - for the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act -- a good, moral, sensible, patriotic bill. A bill that can and will save our democracy, that can and will restore a balance to our process. Tomorrow, you can preserve and protect our "ceremony of innocence", the free, fair and verifiable measurement of the consent of the governed, in order to equip our state's leaders with the power that comes from the people.
At this moment, one day away from your decision, I am confident that our future here in Tennessee will be brighter and more secure if you do as Jesus would do if He were with you. I also expect that I know what Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, John McCain and millions of other God-fearing, patriotic Republicans would do if they sat in your chairs tomorrow afternoon.
It is now your turn to do the next right thing, for all of us, for all of them, for our country.
In closing, I can promise you one thing. This will be last email I will send to all of you, at least for a while. After more than four years, we have talked (and typed) this issue to its final conclusion. By Tuesday night, we will all know where you ended up, in your heart, before you voted. If you decide to keep the Voter Confidence Act intact and on-track for 2010, I won't need to say anything to you except "thanks". If you delay (and defeat) democracy, there will be no point.
Do the right thing tomorrow. At this moment, that is all we need to ask.
One last point: I can't close without telling you I am well aware that some of my comments in the media and on the internet in recent months have made a few of you uncomfortable and irritated. I am only sorry that it has not prompted any of you to contact me to discuss anything I've said. For all of my oft-stated concerns, I have said repeatedly that, in the absence of elections that can be verified, I cannot prove election fraud and the winners cannot prove they won fair-and-square.
So think of it this way: if you want to shut me up about election fraud fears, give me elections that we both can recount.
With them, I should have no basis for suspicion.Without them, I have no basis for confidence.
Rise up and support the Voter Confidence Act again.
Support a level playing field. Protect the consent of the governed.
Preserve our "ceremony of innocence".
Bernie Ellis, Tennessee voter and American