Photo Credit: Photo by John Brakey
An Alabama court ordered the state’s election officials to perverse all digital ballot images of the paper ballots cast in Tuesday’s high-profile special U.S. Senate election between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore.
The temporary restraining order by the Circuit Court of Montgomery County is a key step in verifying the vote in case the controversial election is close and a recount ensues.
“All counties employing digital ballot scanners in the December 12, 2017 election shall set their voting machines to save ALL PROCESSED IMAGES in order to preserve all digital images,” the court said.
The order is a victory for voting rights and election transparency activists. It affirms that paper ballots—and the electronic images that computers generate while counting them on high-speed scanners—are public records that must be preserved.
Federal law states that all federal election materials must be kept for 22 months, but some states and counties have not done so in recent years. That was the case in Alabama, where top election officials refused to instruct local administrators to check one box in the software on their scanners to preserve all the ballot images.
Until Monday’s order, the vast majority of the images used for counting the vote would be erased once the scanners were turned off on Tuesday night.
While the paper ballots that were scanned would remain, Alabama, like many states, does not have a recent history of election challenges and recounts. That means the potential destruction of Tuesday’s ballots scans would only have added another layer of complexity to verifying the results, shoould a challenge or recount ensue.
Four Alabamans—a Republican, Democrat, Independent and a minister—late last week sued Alabama’s Republican Secretary of State John Merrill and State Election Director Ed Packard after their lawyers were rebuffed by the statewide officials, who refused to instruct county election officials to properly scan the ballot images.
“Defendants John Merrill and Ed Packard are failing to carry out their duties to instruct county election officials to preserve all election materials as required by law,” the lawsuit said. “As a result of Defendants’ failure to comply with Alabama’s public records law, digital ballot images used for tabulating votes and possible post-election adjudication will be destroyed following the December 12, 2017 special election for United States Senate in Alabama…The issue continues to be ripe through all elections scheduled in 2018.”
Next Tuesday’s special election for the seat previously held by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is one of the most controversial in recent state history. It has been rocked by accusations by more than half a dozen women that Roy Moore sexually harassed or assaulted them several decades ago. Those disclosures have led to swings in pre-election polls, prompting the voting rights advocates to sue to ensure all the votes cast are accurately counted.
Their lawsuit suit cited Alabama law that required election records be preserved for six months and federal law that required all the records be preserved for 22 months.