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Shelby County Election Commission falls behind as voting starts

Oliver Morrison

The Shelby County Election Commission officials say they have not uploaded more than 100 financial forms from Shelby County political candidates, more than a week after they were turned in. That includes five school board candidates. The financial forms detail who has donated to the candidates’ campaign and how much money candidates have raised.

The Shelby County Schools board race is hotly contested because the next slate of board members will have to make high stakes decisions about how to improve failing schools while their revenues are shrinking.

The commission has not made public the financial disclosures for five Shelby County Schools candidates, a week after they were due to be posted. After numerous emails and phone calls, the commission still could not confirm whether the missing candidates did not submit their forms on-time or whether the forms are sitting in its offices somewhere and just have not been made public. Normally, the forms are uploaded within a day, according to its policy.

The candidates whose forms are not available and may have not been submitted on time are Teddy King, David Winston, Jimmy Warren, Miska Bibbs and William Orgel.

If candidates did not submit their financial disclosures by July 10, the commission is supposed to send the delinquent candidates certified letters, giving them five extra days to comply before turning them over to the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance for fines that start at $25 per day and can be as much as $10,000.

But with early voting starting Friday along with staff shortages, Director Richard Holden said that there had not been time to verify all of the candidates’ financial disclosures and send out the certified letters.

“The timing is such that we’re busy. We got more than we can say grace over,” said Holden. “Let’s say you send me a voter registration card that changes your address: clearly that’s a higher priority than sending someone a letter telling us how much money they raised and wasted.”

Tennessee law requires that the letters be sent, according to documents on the commission’s website. “[If they didn’t send the letters] their office has violated the statute but we don’t have any authority to take any action against them,” said Drew Rawlins, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

According to the law,

The Registry staff or the county election commission, whichever office should have received a required campaign financial disclosure statement, must notify the candidate or committee by personal service or by return receipt requested mail that the report has not been received and that civil penalties of twenty-five dollars ($25) a day will begin to accrue five (5) days after receipt of the notice until the report is filed or for thirty (30) days, whichever occurs first. T.C.A. § 2-10-110(a)(1)(A) and T.C.A. § 2-10-110(a)(1)(B) Tennessee Law from Shelby County Election Commission website

Robert Meyers, the chairman of the election commission’s board, agrees with Holden that preparing for the election takes priority over sending out the required letters to candidates. “Sometimes that can get done and sometimes it becomes impractical at some point,” said Meyers. “That really relates to a staffing issue. We have a manager that is out. We have asked the county for some additional positions.”

This election is especially busy because more than 60 judge positions are up for election this year, which only happens every eight years.

“There are over 100 forms that haven’t been uploaded,” a representative for the commission said on July 18. “We’ve been assigned to a different project.”

The election commission faced a critical audit last year that cited 19 high risk problems, including failing to register voters and making changes to forms without identifying who made the change.

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