Validity of upcoming election challenged

Published 3:45 pm Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Questions have surfaced about a fair election in Selma.

Particularly, some incumbents seeking re-election or election to another position want to ensure nobody will tamper with election machines prior to voters casting their ballots Aug. 26.

The questions came up Monday after Selma City Clerk told council members Election Systems and Software would provide a substantial number of voting machines to the city.

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Selma City Clerk Lois Williams said she would store the machines in the basement of City Hall until election day. She assured the council of the machines’ safety.

“When the voting machines come to us, they have no brain,” Williams explained. “They’re just a dummy, so to speak.”

On Aug. 20, a representative with ES&S will test the machines and place the cartridges or “brains” in the machine, where it will remain until election day. Other safety precautions include a lock or seal on the machines and counters zeroed out for voting tallies.

If either the lock or the counters show tampering on election day, the city won’t use the machines, Williams said.

But some council members raised concerns about the integrity of the election with the machines stored in City Hall.

Councilman Cecil Williamson said he has issues with the machines having the cartridges in them in the basement of City Hall for five days.

Previously, the city has used voting machines owned by ES&S, but stored at the Dallas County Courthouse.

“I don’t see why we are changing things, right now,” Williamson said.

The councilman has raised issues before about the city clerk being a disinterested party and her ability to conduct the election. He and Councilman Reid Cain, who is not seeking re-election have contended because Williams at one time said publicly she supported the mayor, she might prefer him.

The council has gone so far as to ask the city’s attorney, Jimmy Nunn, to seek an opinion from the state Attorney General’s office about allowing Probate Judge Kim Ballard to oversee this year’s municipal election.

Said Cain, “The courthouse could be considered more of a disinterested party than the City Hall in this instance.”

Nunn pointed out the law allows the clerk to put the machines where she deems a fitting place. The report by Williams was a courtesy, Nunn said.

“We’re trying to keep the city council involved as we do this,” the attorney said. “We want everyone to be happy or to try to make everybody happy as we go through this election process.”

Four years ago, some candidates raised questions about the validity of votes in some boxes after people came into the polls with laptop computers.

Council President George Evans said counters might not reflect what has happened to a machine. He had watched a documentary, “Hacking Democracy,” which showed a machine zeroed out on the counter, but when checked, the machine contained votes for different people.

HBO broadcast the documentary recently. In it, filmmakers claim the makers of voting machines — Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia — have all denied people can get into them or hack them in various ways.