Officials unveil plan to help voters who cast wrong ballots

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville voters who cast ballots in the wrong congressional and state races will be able to submit a provisional ballot on Election Day, officials announced Friday as part of an agreement sparked by a lawsuit earlier that day.

The decision comes as election officials have scrambled for days to correct Davidson County's voting system after The Associated Press reported first that nearly 200 Tennesseans had voted in the incorrect congressional races, while 16 cast votes in a wrong state Senate race and six cast votes in a wrong state House race.

Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers split up multiple precincts throughout Davidson County while redrawing Nashville’s congressional maps in hopes of flipping a Democratic seat. As a result, voters now live in splintered precincts and some have been incorrectly grouped in the wrong district. But according to the county, no issues surrounding ballots being cast in the wrong race were raised during the primary, which took place in August.

Jeff Roberts, Nashville's election administrator, had originally stated that the problem had been fixed Wednesday morning after working throughout the night, combing through the complex county voting system and getting the voting machines up to date.

However, threats of lawsuits continued to mount and by Friday, election officials confirmed that an unknown number of Davidson County voters could still potentially receive the wrong ballot on Election Day, which is Nov. 8. To date, officials have refused to estimate how many voters are at risk of receiving the wrong ballot.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters eventually filed a legal challenge late Friday, as Nashville city council members were meeting behind closed doors to discuss options on how to ensure voters could still cast a correct ballot.

Nashville's council is not named in the lawsuit, but Davidson County Election Commission is one of the defendants.

Under the tentative agreement, which a judge approved Friday night, voters may be able to enter a provisional ballot on Election Day at the county election office if they submitted an incorrect ballot during the early voting period. Those provisional ballots will only be opened if the election is contested.

Meanwhile, voters who believe they are given the wrong ballot on a voting machine on Election Day will also be given a chance to use a special paper ballot at their assigned polling places.

Voters whose districts were correctly assigned will cast their ballots on voting machines at their regular polling places.

The order dictates that Davidson County must educate poll workers so that they can assist affected voters. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State's office will investigate to determine how the problem arose in the first place.

“I feel as confident that I can that the fix is ready to go into place and it will address the issue,” said Wallace Dietz, Nashville's legal director.

Julia Bruck, spokesperson for the secretary of state's office, said, “We support the Agreed Order and are grateful that the Court granted relief for the affected voters.”

Roberts did not respond to a request for comment late Friday.

“There is a fix, there is a way for everybody to vote,” Nashville Councilmember Bob Mendes. “That's my number one priority and we can figure out the blame for this afterwards.”

Meanwhile, a congressional ballot issue also took place in the state’s most populous county, Shelby, which includes Memphis. Local election officials said Friday that 50 ballots were cast at one Memphis polling place for the incorrect congressional race. The 9th Congressional District was listed on the ballot instead of the correct one for those voters, the 8th.

County elections administrator Linda Phillips said the “clerical error” originated at the local level and was immediately corrected on the ballot for future voters. She said no further issues were identified in a review of all other precincts. The mistake was found Oct. 31 after 50 ballots had already been cast.

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