Suit filed in Tennessee seeks safeguards ahead of election
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A group claiming that electronic voting machines used in Tennessee’s largest county are not secure filed a lawsuit Friday to get the voting system replaced with paper ballots after the Nov. 6 election.
The suit filed in Memphis federal court by Shelby County Advocates for Valid Elections, or SAVE, names Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, state Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins, Shelby County Administrator of Elections Linda Phillips, and other election officials as defendants.
SAVE alleges the touchscreen voting machines used by Shelby County are insecure because they do not produce a voter-verifiable paper trail. The suit says requiring voters to use the machines violates their right to have their votes recorded in a “fair, precise, verifiable and anonymous manner.”
The group is asking a judge to force the state and county to implement various safeguards to protect the integrity of upcoming election in November. The suit also wants a judge to order the county to change its voting system to one with a handwritten ballot and a voter-verifiable paper trial from December forward.
Hargett said his office does not comment on pending litigation. Phillips did not return a call seeking comment.
Cybersecurity experts have long complained that the nation’s antiquated elections infrastructure is vulnerable to tampering, now a critical concern given documented Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Those activities included probes of elections systems in at least 21 states, a hack into the Illinois voter-registration database, and attempts to hack a Florida maker of electronic poll books.
Along with SAVE, other plaintiffs include two voters and state Rep. Joe Towns Jr., a Democrat who is on the November ballot.
SAVE spent years making and studying public records requests related to elections in Shelby County, the state’s largest by population. Group members, led by attorney and former Memphis City Council member Carol Chumney, issued a report in 2017 detailing the county’s voting problems.
Issues with elections in Shelby County date back to 2012 and before, including problems with voter registration applications, ballot mistakes, complaints of vote tabulation errors, and allegations of manual editing of software files and election results, state and county government reports show.
The suit questions the security and reliability of the voting machines and its software, provides by vendor Election Systems & Software. Advocates claim the software is obsolete and presents a risk to the election system. The suit also questions the security of memory cards, computers, and modems used by the county.
Use of the AccuVote direct electronic voting machines “makes Tennessee’s elections unverifiable, unauditable, and vulnerable to undetectable manipulation,” the suit said. The AccuVote machines contains much of the same hardware found in an inexpensive, general-purpose desktop computer in use in the early 2000s, the lawsuit said.
Plaintiffs allege that election officials’ policy of using the electronic voting machines and their outdated software denies their right to vote.
“Problems with the Shelby County voting systems, including voting machines, software, tabulators, and election management systems, are pervasive, severe, chronic and persistent,” the suit said.
Safeguards sought by SAVE were detailed in a letter to Hargett, Goins and Phillips last month. In a response letter, Goins said steps are being taken to protect the voting system and it’s up to the county to decide if it wants to change its voting system.
This story has been corrected to show that Rep. Joe Towns Jr. is a plaintiff, not a defendant.