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Shelby Advocates for Valid Elections (S.A.V.E.)

Local • State • National

What is S.A.V.E.?

S.A.V.E. is a nonprofit organization based in Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee devoted to researching, educating, and advocating for reform of the nation’s (and Memphis area’s) election processes to ensure the fundamental right to vote in public elections.

Why is there a need for S.A.V.E.?

The Shelby County Election Commission [SCEC] has operated a fundamentally unfair election system for over a decade. Candidates, voters, and volunteers have observed reported vote counts flip between contenders for an office, electronic votes not matching reported results from the precincts, poll tapes disappearing, flawed audit processes, and legitimate voters turned away from their proper precinct, etc.

In 2012, the Tennessee Comptroller,  Justin Wilson, did a cursory audit of the SCEC at the request of the Secretary of State. He concluded, "The primary responsibility of the SCEC is to conduct elections in Shelby County, yet the SCEC has demonstrated an inability to conduct elections without significant inaccuracies."

The Voting on Thin Ice Report, based upon 5 years of open records requests to the SCEC (through 2017) documents serious improprieties. And, there was a data breach and exposure of 650,000 Shelby County voters’ personal information discovered in an electronic poll book sold on eBay and exhibited at the 2017 Voting Village DEF CON Hacking Conference. The SAVE expert, Mathew Bernhard opines that the leaking of voter data is not a garden-variety election irregularity, and the sheer number of incidents which have negatively impacted voters in Shelby County is far greater than other jurisdictions.

In addition, Bernhard states that the transmission of election results over a network is a “practice that exposes the system to even greater risk of compromise, and is another factor that exposes Shelby County voters to greater risk than other voters in Tennessee. He adds that newer “paper-based systems, and in particular voting systems that include hand-marked paper ballots and post-election audits, provide substantial mitigation to the risks facing voters in Shelby County.

There has been a lack of transparency, due diligence and failure of the local and state election officials to investigate and undertake a forensic audit of the voting machines and systems, and also to replace the system with paper ballots. The State of Georgia uses the same voting machines as in Shelby County, Tennessee and the U.S. District Court, N.D. Ga. has held the same model DRE voting system was hacked multiple times by cybersecurity experts who reported the system’s vulnerabilities to state authorities.

Activity meant to discredit Tennessee elections has already occurred in 2018 where Knox County experienced a distributed denial of service (DD0S) attack, distracting from the fact that hackers were infiltrating their election system and injecting malicious code into the system. It has been reported that on May 1, 2018, computers from about 65 countries accessed the Knox County website in a three-hour period, and an active attack was made on the server, with the election commission website crashing.

The vulnerabilities in the Shelby County, Tennessee voting systems are similar to those in many counties across the nation. The work of S.A.V.E. to research, educate and advocate will help bring needed reforms to ensure the preservation of our democracy.

Our DRE voting machines are without a voter verified paper trail

In 2006 the SCEC opted to purchase voting machines that do not have a paper trail. DRE stands for “Direct Recording Electronic”. A voter records their intent by striking an electronic ballot presented to them in a manner determined by the SCEC. Once the voter presses the green “Vote” button the machine adds that vote to a running tally in that candidate’s field. 

With no paper record, everyone has to believe that this vote is recorded accurately inside the voting machine computer and tabulator. 

With no paper record, there is no manual check on the machines. Votes go in and results come out only on a poll tape that gives totals for each candidate. While there is a digital ballot image, it can be manipulated just as can the vote totals by malfunctions or even worse, hackers. With no paper trail, there is no way to perform a verifiable recount. 

The best check the insecure system currently in place in Shelby County is to compare the electronically derived totals to the sum of the paper poll results printed out at each precinct. This detects post precinct malfeasance but still depends on the accuracy of the initial recording of the vote. Further, the internal audit logs for the software used inside the voting machines, and the tabulator, are secret in that they are deemed proprietary by the vendor. Thus, the voters have no way to know whether or not hacking has occurred.

This has statewide implications

Currently only 14 of 95 Tennessee counties have voter verified paper trails (VVPAT) for their voters. This includes only one of the major cities, Chattanooga (Hamilton County). Yet, the Tennessee Secretary of State, reassured the Governor that Tennessee was well prepared for the 2018 midterm elections. 

The SCEC although admitting that new voting systems have been needed since 2013, still has not taken action. The delay evidences lack of concern about the vulnerabilities of paperless DRE machines, especially in light of the fact that the machines are so old it is like using today a computer bought in 2006 without upgrades.  Expert Bernhard has even observed the ability to play PacMan on the same type of voting machines, and otherwise manipulate the results.

Will the SCEC purchase new voting machines and systems in time for the 2019 Memphis municipal elections, or even the 2020 U.S. Presidential, U.S. Senate, and House elections? And, will the new machines be the right ones, or another insecure system? 

Dick Williams of Common Cause of Tennessee led a coalition of concerned citizens to pass the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act in 2008. The bill passed with bipartisan support. This legislation required the state to have all counties use paper ballots with optical scanners by the 2010 election. What happened? The legislature later repealed the mandate, keeping Tennessee vulnerable to ballot manipulation, although the law still recommends the paper ballot with optional ballot systems. However, the SCEC Administrator is advocating not to purchase the same.

There are also national implications

The national security agencies have labelled paperless DRE machines as a great national security risk. The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security has rendered the U.S. voting apparatus as critical infrastructure. The Senate Intelligence Committee agrees with this assessment and strongly recommends paper ballots with free standing optical scanners at the precinct level. Yet the Tennessee Election Commission appeared to be behind the curve on this information at their hearing with S.A.V.E. in July 2018. And, the Tennessee Secretary of State as recently as March 2019, has publicly taken a hands off approach. If this stands, as well as in other states, then the U.S. elections that decide the President, and composition of the U.S. Congress will remain vulnerable.

We need your help

S.A.V.E. was founded by three concerned citizens, with political experience, who could not stand back and watch a flawed election system. They are Carol Chumney, Mike Kernell, and Joe Weinberg.

You are invited to participate by joining and/or participating with us on our Facebook page where we will be discussing local, state, and national implications of our voting system. S.A.V.E. also is asking for funding for its continued research, the pending federal court lawsuit, and in order to educate those at risk of having their votes lost or miscounted in the system.

Become a Shelby Advocate for Valid Elections

You are invited to participate by completing our contact form and/or following us on our S.A.V.E. Facebook page where we will be discussing local, state, and national implications of our voting system.

S.A.V.E. is a 501 (c3) non-profit organization founded by Mike Kernell, Joe Weinberg, and Carol Chumney
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