A Tennessee county released misleading information about an anti-slavery referendum; “No” voices piled up

During months of campaigning, Kathy Chambers had never seen a single message on the “Contact Us” page of the “Yes on 3” campaign website – the bipartisan effort to urge voters to agree to a constitutional amendment that would end slavery in Tennessee for always forbidden.

But at 8:31 a.m. on Election Day, Chambers — the campaign manager — received an urgent message from Cannon County, about 90 miles northwest of Hamilton County.

“I live in Cannon County. There is false information in the ballot box,” the message said. “Is there a way to report this and have it taken down or changed in the ballot boxes in Cannon Tennessee.”

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The voter included a screenshot of a sign posted in the voting booth directly above the machine, clearly visible to anyone entering to vote. It contained an odd summary of Amendment 3 – a ‘3. Class run down,” said the printed sign.

“Slavery is illegal,” the summary said. “Would you like to reformulate this ban in the state constitution?”

A simple reading of the message said that a vote for Amendment 3 would be a vote to make slavery legal again when the opposite is true: Amendment 3, which passed with an 80% to 20% majority nationwide, will instead add these words to the Tennessee Constitution: “Slave and involuntary servitude are forbidden forever.”

Tennessee was one of four states this year where voters overwhelmingly voted to eliminate remaining language in the state constitutions that allows slavery and involuntary servitude as a punishment for crimes. As in Tennessee, voters in Alabama, Oregon and Vermont voted overwhelmingly in favor of anti-slavery measures.

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However, Cannon County’s results were markedly different. The amendment passed by a majority of 66% to 34% — the highest percentage of “no” votes of any of the state’s 95 counties.

“We were very excited about these results,” Chambers said. “It made us question whether the people of Cannon County thought they were going to vote one way, but ended up voting the opposite.”

After speaking with the Cannon County voter she contacted on election day, Chambers immediately contacted a campaign attorney. The secretary of state’s office was alerted around 9 a.m. and immediately ordered Cannon County election officials to remove the signs, a spokesman said.

An apologetic Cannon County election commissioner told the Lookout he made a mistake.

Matt Teply, the election administrator, said it was an attempt to help poll workers who were bombarded with questions about the changes during early voting.

Still, on Oct. 18 — the day before early voting began — a post was made on the Cannon County Electoral Commission’s Facebook page that included the same “dilapidated 3rd grader,” according to Chambers, who said she had the post there seen on election day. This post has since been removed but an identical post from 7 November remains on the Commission’s Facebook page.

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The posts appear to violate state law, which requires Tennessee’s Attorney General to provide summaries of all proposed constitutional amendments.

“These summaries appear on every ballot, as do the sample ballots published and posted by the county election commission,” said Julia Bruck, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Secretary of State. “State law does not provide for any other summaries.

“Why Cannon County designed something beyond what the attorney general provided is a question for Cannon County,” she said. “In distributing these summaries, our office instructed county election officials to remind their election officials that the ballot speaks for itself.”

Bruck said her office had received no further complaints.

Read more at TennesseeLookout.com.