Tennessee Still Confident in Elections Integrity

By: Mary Grace Donaldson, University of Tennessee Administrative Intern

 

On Tuesday, January 25, Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Director of Elections Mark Goins gave a presentation to the House Local Government Committee. Entitled “Tennessee Elections: Easy to Vote, Hard to Cheat,” this presentation outlined election integrity in Tennessee. They reflected on the 2020 election and also responded to questions from legislators about voting in Tennessee. The presentation in many ways reflected what our members heard from Secretary Hargett at the fall conference in Memphis. 


Goins described that it is easy to register to vote and easy to cast a vote in Tennessee. One can register to vote online through the Secretary of State’s website, by mail, or in person at a county election commission office. He reported that the online voter registration feature is widely popular and also ensures security. Also, Tennessee makes it easy to cast a vote through an extensive early voting period and through by-mail voting, for those eligible to vote by mail. According to Goins, in the November 2020 general election, about 3 out of 4 Tennessee voters voted in one of these early methods, mostly through early voting. 


Goins and Hargett detailed security measures and processes implemented to prevent election fraud. One of the primary ways to maintain election integrity is to maintain current voter registration lists. The Coordinator of Elections’ office regularly removes ineligible voters and adds newly registered voters on an ongoing basis. A voter may become ineligible due to a change of address, being deceased, or committing a felony. Election administrators are in regular contact with the USPS, other counties and states, and other trustworthy entities to ensure that each person is only eligible to vote in the place they currently reside.


Election integrity is also maintained by implementing security training, approving certified voting systems, and ensuring bipartisan participation in every step of the voting process. Tennessee elections do not run on one statewide system. Instead, counties can choose from among five certified voting system vendors, and each county’s system operates independently. Election results are never transmitted automatically from a voting machine. Each county election commission must manually enter the election data into the Secretary of State’s system, and when the election results are submitted, they are automatically shared on Twitter to increase transparency. On election night, the Secretary of State’s office contacts each county election commission by phone to verify the results received from that county. 


The 2020 general election showed both record turnout and a record number of registered voters in Tennessee. Election commissions did encounter more voters who had requested mail-in ballots later deciding to come vote in person. Secretary Hargett speculated that this was possibly due to the concerns by voters over whether their ballot would arrive in time when they mailed it. The U.S. Postal Service had publicly talked about concerns over their ability to timely deliver ballots. The Secretary of State believes this led some voters to request a mail-in ballot, only to change their mind and choose to vote early or in-person on election day. Once a voter requests a ballot by mail, they are marked as having voted in poll books. If they subsequently appear in person to vote, election officials know to treat that voter differently. They may cast a provisional ballot which is not counted until the election commission is able to verify that the mail-in ballot has not already been received. That way, election commissions ensure that only one vote was recorded per person.


Hargett said that no election is without some minor amount of fraud. He knows of between 10 and 20 individual cases of voter fraud in the Tennessee 2020 election amidst 3 million votes.  This number is so low because of the safeguards that Tennessee has implemented. Overall, Goins and Hargett are confident in the trustworthiness of Tennessee’s elections and are even proactively developing additional safeguards. According to the Center for Excellence in Polling, 86% of Republicans, 84% of Democrats, and 85% of Independents in Tennessee are confident in the Tennessee’s election integrity. Both Hargett and Goins take pride in that result and hope that their ongoing efforts to secure Tennessee’s elections and encourage more voter participation are paying off.


The presentation may be viewed in full here.