Williamson County group clashes with State Election Commission

By: - October 12, 2021 5:01 am
A large group of people wait in line to early vote at the Howard Building before Polls opened at 8:00am.(Photo: John Partipilo)

In Oct. 2020, a large group of people wait in line to early vote at Nashville’s Howard Building. (Photo: John Partipilo)

A group of Williamson County residents skirmished with the State Election Commission Monday, claiming the state’s voting process is full of loopholes that could lead to fraud.

Although it failed to show any proof of voter fraud in Tennessee during the 2020 election—which former President Donald Trump still claims was stolen—the group dubbed Williamson County Voters for Election Integrity claimed the state’s voting system is so lax it could be manipulated with ease.

Primarily, the group wants Tennessee to tighten controls on county election computer systems and move toward a paper ballot for backup and even hand counting of votes. The group has continually pinpointed the Dominion machines used in Williamson County, which already has paper ballots for backup, and said the scanning system, as well as the county’s voter rolls, could be hacked by someone wanting to steal an election.

In addition, the advocates contended the state should move counties away from voting convenience centers back to precincts and embark on a thorough statewide audit of elections.

“2020 changed everything,” Kathleen Harms, one of the group’s leaders, told election officials.

She urged the state to put a “firewall” between a paper trail of ballots and any vendors. Critics of the 2020 election have claimed Dominion voting computer systems were hacked, enabling President Joe Biden to carry important voting blocks and ultimately win the election.

It was at least the second time the group went before the State Election Commission to challenge Tennessee’s election process, leading some commissioners to grow weary with the complaints.

Election officials have claimed Tennessee had the cleanest vote in the nation last year. Tennessee saw a status quo election with Republicans retaining most of their power and Democrats continuing to stay in the minority

“I don’t like my integrity being questioned,” Commission Chairman Judy Blackburn told the group, though she was later conciliatory, thanking them for coming to the meeting.

Blackburn pointed out the group probably needs to talk to state legislators about changing Tennessee’s election laws, which drew grumbles from the 30-odd people attending, some of whom said they would have to depend on shaky election machines to get rid of incumbents.

For the second time, Williamson County Voters for Election Integrity challenged the state’s election process before the State Election Commission. “I don’t like my integrity being questioned,” Commission Chair Judy Blackburn told the group Monday.

Election Commissioner Greg Duckett of Memphis put the group on notice early on that he didn’t want to hear a lot of repetitious allegations, asking how long their presentation would take. They said it would last 35 minutes, but it turned into a back-and-forth session that lasted well over two and a half hours.

Duckett and other election commissioners also told the group they could read reports instead of listening to them explain every word of their argument.

Some of those statements drew jeers, and audience members shouted at commissioners that they left jobs to attend the meeting. 

State security officers entered the room about halfway through the meeting to maintain control.  

Election Commissioner Kent Younce of Campbell County in East Tennessee was clearly miffed by the presentation and asked the group’s leader, Frank Limpus, if he found fraud in the Williamson County election last year.

Limpus responded that they sent 50 questions to the Williamson County Election Commission and when they got no responses they assumed “everything we said was correct.”

Yonce retorted that commissioners had seen all the news reports about election complaints and heard “conspiracy theories” coming out of battleground states. He remains convinced Tennessee is handling elections without widespread fraud.

“If you can steal an election, I don’t know how in the heck you can do it,” Younce said.

Younce also noted that if the group wanted to talk about voter fraud in Arizona, Michigan and Georgia elections, he didn’t want to hear it.

Greg Duckett. (Photo: Tennessee Board of Regents)
Greg Duckett. (Photo: Tennessee Board of Regents)

Another commissioner urged the group to contact a district attorney or the Department of Justice if it knew of voter fraud.

Duckett pointed out that as a member of the Shelby County Election Commission he helped ferret out voter fraud through the use of dead people’s names while serving there more than a decade ago.

The group remained persistent, nevertheless, and continued to press the claim that Tennessee needs to change county voting systems, put a new audit into place and place tighter security on voting machines. They showed video of numerous federal lawmakers, including Vice President Kamala Harris, saying that election machines can be hacked.

Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins refuted several of the group’s claims, saying Tennessee’s main method for averting voter fraud comes through bipartisan county election commissions.

He also argued that even though Georgia and Arizona used “risk-level” audits, people still question the outcomes.

Georgia, Arizona and Michigan all flipped to Biden after Trump proclaimed victory on those states before the vote count was finished. 

Goins, a former state legislator, noted that he once challenged the legitimacy of a state election when he lost a political race.

“Ultimately, I concluded I just didn’t get enough votes,” he said.

 

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.

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