- Guest blogged by Bev Harris of BlackBoxVoting.org
Four hundred and eighty-eight voters, all but four lifelong Democrats, and nearly all Black, had their voting history erased by Shelby County (Memphis) election workers, setting them up for purge from the voter list. These selective alterations appear to target the race of US Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN-09).
To alter voting histories for a selected set of voters, putting them at risk for strategically selected and improper removal from the voting list, is to demean them, to treat them as if they have less worth as human beings than they do. And to demean them is to wrong them. What Shelby County's election staff has done, in altering the records, is morally wrong.
The full list of voters whose voting records have been altered is here. If you know someone on this list, please let them know about this.
DETAILS ON SHELBY COUNTY VOTER LIST ALTERATIONS
Shelby County voters owe a debt of gratitude to Darrick "D" Harris (no relation). This information has come to light because, when I spoke with Harris by telephone recently, he expressed concern to me about his discovery that his voting history had somehow evaporated.
An active Democratic voter and political consultant, Harris had copies of voter databases containing his own voter history. He knows he votes regularly, but as of Oct. 2011, the voter list reports that he has never voted --- not once!...
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
When voters fail to vote for two federal general elections, a purge process is initiated.
Your voter history should never vary. If it said, in 2010, that you voted in the Nov. 2008 presidential election, that should not be changed in 2011 to show that you DIDN'T vote in 2008. The only way the database can alter your voting history is if someone changes the information in the database.
D. Harris did not just have his 2008 voting history erased. Every vote he had ever cast, going back to 2000, had been erased. I took the official Shelby County voter list, filedate 2010 (obtained by court order in a lawsuit) and compared it with the voter history list from 2011.
488 voters had their histories erased.
ALMOST ALL VOTERS WERE BLACK
Of these, according to the 2011 database, 430 are Black. It is against the law to alter voter records. It is a civil rights violation to select Black voter records for alteration.
WHY DILUTION OF RACIAL IDENTITY IS SIGNIFICANT
Last year, I reported that in Shelby County, they have been diluting the racial identifier so that thousands of Black voters are now reported as "other." Twenty-four of the voters with histories erased had also had their racial identifiers removed. In fact, 454 out of 488 on the erased list are Black, and only four are White, leaving all the others marked "other." Most likely, out of 488 erasures, 484 are Black.
ALMOST ALL ARE DEMOCRAT
Only five voters in the erased list show that they have ever voted Republican, but you'll notice that I listed that as just four in my opening paragraph. That's because Shelby County has also been altering party choice in its voter records. It is possible that Ruth Ann Phelps, one of the five so-called Republicans, never voted Republican at all.
Ruth Ann Phelps is reported as selecting a Republican ballot in the May 2010 primary, but her records show she is a lifelong Democrat. I found hundreds of lifelong Democrats whose voter history preference was altered in the May and August 2010 elections.
Phelps is an interesting case. She used to be one of the key employees at Shelby County Elections. She at one time had a password to the GEMS election management system, but the audit log for the GEMS database shows that Ruth Ann Phelps password was revoked in June 2010. Phelps at one time worked at the main elections operation center, where she had access to voter list maintenance systems, but in 2010 she was transferred to a downtown office. By 2011, her voter history had been erased. Right around this time, she retired.
THE SELECTIVE PREPARATION FOR PURGE TARGETS U.S. CONGRESSMAN STEVE COHEN
Not only are almost all the altered records Democrat, not only are they almost all Black, but every single one of them is in Congressional District 09.
I have heard that Cohen's seat is not considered at risk, though with redistricting and a well financed opponent, and paperless touchscreen voting machines, and selective removal of voters from his voting base, who knows?
I have also heard that the most astute political strategists focus on changing not just the weather (short term election results), but the climate (long term voting environment).
At any rate, it doesn't matter what Cohen's chances are. The rights that were violated are those of Shelby County VOTERS, who have a right to vote for the candidate of their choice, and who are entitled to accurate records.
And I have a question: How widespread is this problem? Are there other counties where voter histories are strategically eroding? I have spoken with both Democratic and Republican election integrity enthusiasts, and one of my frustrations is that the Democrats count on their VAN system and the Republicans count on their VOTER VAULT system to keep them up to date on voter list data. Neither of these systems is the real, working data. It should be possible to detect alterations like this in other counties, but since purges are performed using the actual county database, skip the VAN and VOTER VAULT: Examine the actual lists. As we see in Shelby County, there is no reason to believe that the raw data matches VAN or VOTER VAULT. The raw data is getting altered from time to time.
To detect this kind of alteration, a database created and saved in 2010 should be compared for changes with more recent iterations, but the actual county database should be used for the exam, rather than relying on proprietary party databases.
THEY SEND A LETTER BEFORE PURGING, DON'T THEY?
Altering the records is illegal, and a civil rights violation, regardless of whether voters can halt the purge process by responding to a letter. Taking the position that this is a minor matter, because voters wrongfully targeted for purge can always reinstate themselves by responding to a purge letter is like saying false arrest doesn't matter, because you can always prove you are innocent.
And there is such a thing as justice...
Oppressors do all they can to prevent use of the category of justice; they do all they can to cast the situation in terms of good behavior and bad behavior…sometimes our frameworks of conviction lead us to discount the significance of what we see and hear. We regard the one before us as a candidate for charity, should we be so inclined, or we insist that his condition is his own fault.
I heard the Afrikaners say to the black and coloreds, "We are good people, if you just behave, we will give you most of what you are asking for."
- Justice: Rights and Wrongs, by Nicholas Wolterstorff. (Second passage in reference to pre-apartheid South Africa.)
What happened to the strategically selected voters in Shelby County, whose records were altered to put them at special risk for purge, is a moral wrong.
And it is illegal.
This article was originally published at BlackBoxVoting.org here. That version of the report contains the full list of Shelby County voters found to have had their voting history recently purged.
Bev Harris is the founder of BlackBoxVoting.org, a non-partisan elections watchdog organization. Her work and investigations at BBV have been featured by dozens of national media outlets, and she is featured prominently in HBO's 2006 Emmy-nominated documentary Hacking Democracy.