Under Tennessee law, counties that use precinct-based optical scanners must conduct automatic (machine) audits of the voter-verified paper ballots cast for the president of the United States in a presidential election and the governor in a gubernatorial election.
At least one precinct-based optical scan tabulator used to count ballots cast during early voting is selected. Additionally, counties with a population less than 300,000 shall randomly select at least one precinct to audit and counties with population greater than 300,000 shall randomly select at least five precincts to audit.
Not all counties utilize optical scanners for counting; therefore, not all counties are subject to these audit provisions.
Unless otherwise specified, statutory references are to TN Code § 2-20-103.
Voting Systems Used
As of 2020, seven counties in Tennessee use ballot marking devices for all polling-place voters; six counties primarily use hand marked paper ballots and optical scanners in polling places, with ballot marking devices for accessibility. The remaining counties use paperless DRE voting machines for all voters. For the most up to date information please visit Verified Voting’s Verifier.
For an explanation on the types of voting equipment used, click here.
At least one precinct-based optical scan tabulator used to count early voting ballots is audited. Some absentee ballots are also included in the audit, but only those that are tabulated by machine.
The random selection is open to the public, as is the audit itself. However, there is no mention of members of the public or observers being allowed to verify marks on the ballots. The county election commission shall publicly announce the results of any machine re-tabulations or manual hand counts.
Audit Counting Method
Voter-verified paper ballots are to be counted “by inserting the ballots in a different optical scan tabulator than that used to originally count the ballots” that is randomly selected. The expanded audit is also conducted by machine, but at the discretion of the county election commission may be conducted by hand as well.
Type Of Audit Units
Tennessee uses precincts as audit units. The number of precincts audited depends on the population of a given county. For those with fewer than 300,000 people, at least one precinct is audited; for those with 300,000 or more, at least five precincts must be audited. Additionally, at least one precinct-based optical scan tabulator used to count early voting ballots must also be audited.
Contests & Issues Audited
Audits are for the offices of governor and president in the November general elections only.
If the initial machine audit reveals discrepancies of more than 1%, the audit is expanded to include “at least” 3% of voting precincts (which may include the same precincts audited in the original 1%). This second audit is conducted by machine, but at the discretion of the county election commission may also be done by hand. Although the statute implies that the county election commission has the discretion to audit more than 3% of the voting precincts, it is not clear whether the audit could be expanded to a full recount. It is also noteworthy that the statute does not require discrepancies below 1% to be addressed.
For recount laws, see Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota website.
The random selection of the precincts for the audit is required to take place “Immediately after the polls close” while the audit is to begin “before one o’clock p.m. (1:00 pm) local time on the day following election day.”
Binding On Official Outcomes
While neither the initial audit results, nor the results from an expanded audit, are binding upon the official election results, they may be used as evidence in any legal contest filed pertaining to that election.
Oversight & Conduct
Both oversight and conduct of audits are the responsibility of the county election commissions.
For each precinct selected for audit, a county election commissioner from the majority party and a county election commissioner from the minority party shall have all absentee by-mail ballots, all ballots cast during the early voting period and all ballots cast on election day locked and sealed until the county election commission convenes to conduct the audit. For more information see, Tenn. Code § 2-20-103(b)(1); TN Code § 2-7-134; and TN Code § 2-7-137.
Additional Targeted Samples
Tennessee statute does not provide for targeted samples.