By Dylan Lynch
Nashville—At Legislative Summit, your elections team wasn't just working 9 to 5.
So it was that hours before Dolly Parton made a standing room-only Summit splash last week, a small but intrepid group visited the Wilson County Election Commission on the outskirts of Nashville, early on a Monday morning, to see the reality of running elections in Tennessee.
We were warmly welcomed by Phillip Warren, Wilson County administrator of elections, and Tammy Smith, assistant administrator of elections. The Wilson County Election Commission’s mission statement was proudly displayed at the entrance:
“It is the mission of the Wilson County Election Commission to ensure the integrity of every vote cast in Wilson County by administering election law and procedures equally and fairly to all, by providing the most efficient, accurate and secure election process possible, and in all our endeavors, to exceed the expectations of the voters, taxpayers and citizens of Wilson County in accountability and competence.”
With this in mind, Warren and Smith began to dig into what elections look like in Tennessee. Their county has just over 83,200 registered voters who are served by 31 precincts. After making the switch to ballot-marking devices (BMD) in 2016, Wilson County will be piloting vote centers, with 18 proposed voting locations across the county. Five vote centers are currently used for early voting, where, on average, 70-73% of votes are cast in elections.
They were even kind enough to set up a mock precinct, which allowed us to see the process and equipment poll workers use across the county—and to cast a ballot in a mock election. Like many jurisdictions across the country, when a voter enters a precinct, they check in and receive their ballots. Somewhat unique in Wilson County is that the voters are then moved to a second station, where they are asked to double-check their information.
This second step was added because voters were moving through the process too fast, leading to a backup at the BMDs and scanners. Long lines in Wilson County? Unlikely. “It takes less time to vote than to buy a hamburger,” Warren said.
Wilson County also showcased much of the physical security that goes into protecting elections equipment before, during and after elections. There were at least four color-coded seals with corresponding checklists and duplicate checklists for the optical scanner alone. In addition, technical experts spend days prior to the election testing and certifying each vote machine and scanner.
As we were in the training facility, we were constantly reminded that training for poll workers is constant. Wilson County will continue to host its Election Institute, a public course that includes presentations and hands-on demonstrations of all the work that goes into preparing for each and every election.
At a time when voter confidence is critical, educational sessions such as the Election Institute are an opportunity to build public confidence and demonstrate that America’s elections are in good hands.
Visit the Wilson County Election Commission webpage for more information on its operations. To review all the election sessions from the Legislative Summit in Nashville, including presentations and resources, visit our agenda and chose the “Elections and Redistricting” track.
Dylan Lynch is a policy specialist in NCSL's Elections and Redistricting Program.