NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Voters in Tennessee are supposed to see a big change in the voting booth next year. A new state law requires that all counties get rid of touch screen computerized voting systems and go back to paper ballots.
The ballots would be counted by optical scan machines.
NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Ben Hall discovered there's a problem - and it's a pretty big problem. The state says no company sells the equipment required to make the switch. Others say election officials are trying to stall.
"There's nothing more important to us than people having confidence in the vote they are casting," says Secretary of State Tre Hargett.
A growing number of people do not have confidence in the touch screen voting machines. Davidson County bought more than 600 in 2006. Other states have banned them, concerned about hacking and tampering.
State lawmakers passed a law saying Tennessee must use paper ballots counted by optical scan machines by next year's gubernatorial election. Hargett says it may be impossible to meet that deadline.
"There's no machine available. I can't buy something that doesn't exist," he says.
Hargett says state law requires machines that meet a 2005 federal voting standard, but right now machines only meet a 2002 standard. He pushed lawmakers for a two-year delay in implementing the paper ballots, but they said no.
"The bottom line is Tennesseans want elections we can trust and verify - for some reason they don't," says Bernie Ellis, an advocate of voter reform.
Ellis fought to get the new law passed and says talk of delaying paper ballots is a way to eventually kill the law and keep touch screen voting.
"It's time the state legislature instructed the Secretary of State to do his job," says Ellis.
Hargett says he is doing his job. If the state buys machines at a lower standard it could lead to problems down the road.
"I gave my word to people that this was not an effort to kill this act," says Hargett.
For now counties don't know what will happen. Hargett says he'll go back to the legislature to try to work out a compromise for next year.
Some areas in Tennessee already use paper ballot counted with these optical scanning machines right?
Voters in Chattanooga already use the paper ballot system, but their equipment does not meet the 2005 standard.
Ninety-three of Tennessee's 95 counties use the touch screen voting machines.
The new machines will be paid for with a federal grant, but it will be up to counties to maintain them and to print the paper ballots.
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