If you followed the election returns a few months back, you probably noted one of the least surprising results of the night – Bill Haslam handily defeated Mike McWherter in the race for Governor of Tennessee.
In Wilson County, according to the unofficial results posted at 10:31pm on the website of the Wilson County Election Commission, Haslam received 25,024 votes to McWherter’s 8,650. McWherter won only 2 of the 37 polling places across the county. The results at Mt. Juliet High School were typical – Haslam got 547 votes to WcWherter’s 144. West Wilson County is, after all, very Republcian.
Something changed between election night and the certification of the election results several weeks later. The certified results turned in to the Tennessee Secretary of State showed a remarkable result for McWherter at Mt Juliet High School. According to the certified returns, in that one precinct, McWherter received 8,045 votes, beating Haslam’s total of 547 almost 15 to 1!
This was an especially astonishing result, given that the Election Commission’s unofficial returns showed only 1,379 voters registered to vote at Mt. Juliet High School. The difference between the election night unofficial returns and the certified returns from Nov 16th almost doubled McWherter’s vote total for the whole county, to 16,625. Still not enough to beat Haslam’s 25,217 but making the race much closer.
Now, it’s extremely unlikely that the discrepancy in the vote totals was the result of any intentional attempt to change the outcome of the election. But it takes multiple levels of careless inattention to let these results be certified and submitted to the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State’s office noticed the anomaly and wrote the election commission requesting an explanation. Here’s the Election Commission’s response:
Here are the certified results from November 16, 2010:
Here are the unofficial results posted on the website at 10:31pm on November 2, 2010:
At this point, it should be noted that both the Election Administrator, Lynn Harris and the Assistant Election Administrator, Martha Ann Sutherland (who took responsibility for the error) notified the Election Commission of their intentions to retire, effective 12/24/2010, at the Nov 16th meeting during which the election returns were certified.
An 8,000 vote error (in a precinct with less than 1,400 registered voters) is no small thing. It would be one thing if this error occurred in the confusion of election night and the posting of preliminary returns. But this error was made in the certified election results.
The local papers have been uninterested in this story, of course. It doesn’t fit the narrative that the evil Republicans want to replace the most competent election administrators ever with partisan hacks.