Rotary Hears about Elections
Posted By Josh Nelson
The Rotary Club welcomed guest speaker Mike McDonald on March 21, 2019.
McDonald, of Portland, is a former state representative and currently one of seven Tennessee Election Commissioners; it’s a four-year term, and he is in his second term.
Commissioners are elected by the state’s General Assembly.
“There are four Republicans and three Democrats on the state Election Commission,” he said. “That’s because the Republicans (currently) have the majority party. I’m the Middle Tennessee Democrat; I represent 32 counties
“We certify each voter registration system for purchase and use in the state. We certify all voting equipment before it can be sold in Tennessee counties, and counties purchase the equipment.
“The state Election Commission votes on and approves the election of all county election commission members across the state in all 95 counties – we have 475 commissioners across the state. We can remove a county election commissioner after a show-cause hearing. We’ve done that twice since I’ve been on the commission; sometimes commissioners misbehave.”
“We can decertify an administrator of elections; we can certify administrator of election exams – they all have to take an examination, (and) we have to certify those results.
McDonald said they also suggest changes to the election laws to the General Assembly and approve the presidential candidate list which appears on the ballot every four years (he said the recommendation comes from the state Secretary of State and explained how it works).
He also talked about attempts to make the voting process itself easier for those qualified to vote, such as vote centers and early voting.
“In November of 2016, 63.87 percent of the voters were early voters,” McDonald said. “That’s out of 2,545,271 votes. In August of 2016, during the primaries, 48.95 percent – almost half – were early voters.”
McDonald said the commission has also worked to make even the voting registration process itself easier through online registration at www.govotetn.com.
“We’re always looking for ways to encourage people to vote,” he said.
McDonald also addressed issues such as purging voters, hacking elections, and other issues which have arisen over the last few years.
On purging voters from the election rolls, he said it is guided by state law and is limited to certain circumstances such as death, moving, or just not wanting to vote anymore.
“The county election office has to send a ‘Letter of Inquiry’ to that person before they can be purged,” McDonald said. “Sometimes folks get a little anxious about this and want to purge someone before they can be purged. We have to send that letter before a person can be purged.”
On the matter of voter fraud, McDonald said, “In 2016, we had just two people prosecuted with voter fraud – one was a convicted felon; the other was a person who was not a U.S. citizen.
“Fraud is not a huge problem in Tennessee. We keep a close eye on that – I know the secretary (of state) and coordinator of elections does – and we really work hard to make sure that fraud is not an issue in our voting.”
McDonald also addressed the Trump administration’s request to states to turn over their voter files and how Tennessee was one of 45 states which refused their attempts to gain access to them and the crux on which it was addressed, gerrymandering, dark money, and voter apathy.
“Tennessee is 49th out of 50 states in voter turnout,” he said. “We are 40th in voter registration; 838,000 Tennesseans are not registered to vote. That’s a big number, folks. I’m really concerned about apathy. We ought to do all we can to encourage people to register to vote.”
This is just a portion of what Mr. McDonald said during his presentation. To hear his full remarks, click on the link below. Mr. McDonald was introduced by David Mueller.