TN Secretary of State Tre Hargett Talks About How Voting Works in the State of TN
Manage episode 279825922 series 2623091
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- Tennessee Secretary of State, Tre Hargett, grew up in Ripley, TN.
- He served 10 years in the House of Representatives, and was first elected in 1996, then re-elected four more times.
- “Republicans being in control feels like it has made a big difference in how our state has been governed.” -Sec. Hargett
- Hargett is running for reelection in January.
- Hargett’s father was the Adjutant General of the Tennessee National Guard.
- “I have such respect for the men and women in our families who do serve the National Guard and all branches of our government.” -Sec. Hargett
- Hargett views politics and government as a vehicle to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
- Part of Hargett’s job is to work with all 95 county Election Commissions to try and make sure that Tennessee runs elections that meet the highest test of integrity.
- There are two types of mail-in ballots. There is an absentee by mail ballot, in which case, a voter makes a proactive decision. And there is a way to do that by email, fax, or by traditional mail.
- Voter list maintenance is a constant effort on behalf of election officials around the state.
- Two counties in the state of Tennessee: Hamilton County and Williamson County have Dominion Voting Systems.
- Paper ballot counties have to have some type of audit done in TN.
- Mark Goins said his team and all 95 county election commissions around the state did a great job of upholding the integrity of Tennessee's elections.
- Hargett serves on about 15 different boards and commissions, but also the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
- “We are a very well-managed state due to good leadership at the governor level, but also for a legislature that has been very fiscally conservative.” Sec. Hargett
Announcer: For the politics of Nashville, to the history of the Upper Cumberland, this is the Backroads and Backstories podcast, with Senator Paul Bailey.
Sen. Bailey: Welcome back to the podcast. I'm your host, Senator Paul Bailey. Today's guest is Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett. Welcome, Mr. Secretary, glad you joined us.
Sec. Hargett: Thank you, Senator. I appreciate the invitation.
Sen. Bailey: Yes, sir. We're always happy to have our friends here in the state government join us for our podcast so that our listeners can always learn more about state government. So, before we get started, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? Tell us a little bit of your family.
Sec. Hargett: Well, thank you for asking. I grew up in Ripley, Tennessee, which is all the way on the western part of the state, about an hour north of Memphis. Graduated Ripley High School, and then, later on, went and got my bachelor's degree in accounting from Memphis State University. That tells you how long ago that was.
And then got my master's degree in business administration from the University of Memphis, whatever it changed names, about a year and a half later. So, that's where I'm from. I lived down in the Bartlett area until 2007, at which time I moved over to East Tennessee after leaving the House of Representatives, and my wife and two sons now live in Hendersonville, Tennessee. So, the 17-years-old and 13-year-old boys.
Sen. Bailey: So, you mentioned that you were a state representative. How many years were you a state representative?
Sec. Hargett: I served 10 years in the House of Representatives, so first elected 1996, and re-elected four more times, and retired voluntarily in 2006 after 10 years. I was one of those people that said I was going to serve 10 years in the State House of Representatives, no more than that. And so, I kept my word and didn't run for reelection that year.
Sen. Bailey: Now, I also understand you were a Minority Leader during that time.
Sec. Hargett: There's a interesting story about that. When I became the Republican Leader in 2002, I told people, we were going to quit calling it ‘Minority Leader,’ we would call ‘republican’ because ‘minority’ was temporary and ‘republican’ wasn’t.
Sen. Bailey: Oh, okay.
Sec. Hargett: And so I told them we need to start thinking about not being in the minority anymore and begin developing our plans to build up to the majority. So, we call it ‘Republican Leader’ back then.
Sen. Bailey: And how many years were you Republican Leader?
Sec. Hargett: Twice elected as Republican Leader.
Sen. Bailey: Okay. So, you basically served four years, then, as Republican Leader.
Sec. Hargett: Well, and actually, my last year I didn't serve as Republican Leader. I had accepted a job within my company. It required a lot of travel, and I was going back and forth between Memphis and Knoxville every other week, and just would not have been able to do it. And knew I was retiring, so it was better to go and pass baton to somebody, and let somebody else lead and also get ready for the upcoming reelections for those people.
Sen. Bailey: So, tell me what you see is the differences between your time as a state representative and the Republican Leader and today.
Sec. Hargett: Wow, a lot of differences. And one of the big ones, though, is—be pretty obvious is that Republicans being in control feels like has made a big difference in how our state has been governed. One of our friends and I—Ron Ramsey, we used to talk a lot about when we were both in the minority, we talked about how it matters who governs and the decisions we get to make as we lead. So, when I was in the House of Representatives, I was in the minority for five terms, and I knew that anytime I had an idea, or one of our members had an idea on the House floor, I had to appeal to at least five other people on the other side of the aisle to get them to come over to our side to be able to pass any amendment or any bill that we wanted to do.
And now of course, with Republican supermajorities, it's much different to be able to take an idea that we see and be able to go ahead and pass those things after they pass the smell test and the committee process. And so, we're able to govern is the real big difference. And as you know, you and your colleagues have given me the opportunity to serve as secretary of state, I'm elected every four years by members of the House of Representatives and the Senate coming together in a joint convention. And now you've given me the opportunity, with some autonomy, to be able to go and run a department of over 300 people and show that Tennessee government can, in fact, work with a lot of business-like principals.
Sen. Bailey: So, when the General Assembly convenes in January, will this be your time for reelection?
Sec. Hargett: I'll be asking for your vote for reelection this January. Yes, sir.
Sen. Bailey: So, with you asking me for my vote, that's basically giving me an indication that you are seeking reelection.
Sec. Hargett: I am seeking reelection. In fact, have I had somebody else ask me the day, and I've enjoyed the opportunity to try and make a difference, and I appreciate the trust and privilege has been placed in me by the Tennessee General Assembly to try and make government work better.
Sen. Bailey: Before we talk a little bit more about the duties of the secretary of state, I did find something interesting is that your father was the Adjutant General of the Tennessee National Guard.
Sec. Hargett: That's exactly right. He actually was appointed as the Assistant Adjutant General under Sundquist, and Governor Sundquist, in his last year of office, elevated him to the Adjutant General. And then he served seven years under Governor Bredesen. Bredesen kept him over.
And so he had the opportunity to do that. And then his last year, he retired; the Assistant Adjutant General Max Haston, over in McMinnville originally, then became the Adjutant General. My dad went on to become the National Guard Association United States—of the United States—President.
Sen. Bailey: Oh, wow. So, did you serve in the National Guard?
Sec. Hargett: I didn't. And I look back at my life, and I wonder if that was really a missed opportunity. I have such respect for the men and women in our families who do serve the National Guard and all branches of our government.
Sen. Bailey: Well, that's a similar story to mine. I went to that recruiting office; I wanted to be in the Navy, I have family members that had served our country in the Navy, and so I kind of had that thought at one time that I would serve in the armed forces, and especially in the Navy. But I just never did quite follow through. And if I had a regret in life, it's probably that I didn't at least go spend four years there.
So, knowing that your father was the Adjutant General, Tennessee National Guard, did that affect your outlook on politics? I mean, obviously, he was appointed under a Republican Administration, and then served seven years under a Democratic Administration. Military is usually supposed to be non-partisan, but obviously, your father serving the military, how did that shape your—
Sec. Hargett: You know, honestly, I think probably a lot of my growing up, even when he wasn't active duty in the military—he went back active duty in the National Guard back when I was in sixth grade. And I'd already developed an interest in politics and government by that point. Certainly, I look at the sacrifice and the service of the men and women in the armed forces, which it should be a great inspiration for all of us, and we should give them all our appreciation and respect. But for me, I looked at people growing up, historical figures at the national level, some elected, some not, and it saw how they made their mark. And that was what really interests me in politics. I view politics and government as a vehicle to make a positive impact on the lives of others. And that's really what has always struck my interest.
Sen. Bailey: So, who would you say has been the biggest influence in your life as far as your political career is concerned?
Sec. Hargett: Well, outside of present company—
Sen. Bailey: [laugh]. Yeah, I appreciate that.
Sec. Hargett: So, certainly, I think as a Republican, we all during this generation, look at the wisdom and the discipline of Ronald Reagan is someone we look at. Here more at the state level, I grew up in the age of Lamar Alexander, where Lamar Alexander walked in the office, and later I had the opportunity when Lamar Alexander walked out of office as governor, I was the student council president at Ripley High School and had the opportunity to introduce him before the student body in the community. So, a really cool moment.
So, him, I look at Lamar Alexander, I look at a guy like Bill Gibbons, who's the former district attorney in Shelby County, who took me under his wing and taught me how to campaign and go door-to-door. There are so many different people, though, who have intersected with, and names that you would recognize and names that you wouldn’t, of their philosophies and their work ethic that are woven into how I have approached my job, politically and professionally.
Sen. Bailey: You brought up Lamar Alexander, and it's been very interesting over the last several weeks that several news articles have been written about his political career, and it's hard to realize that when he ran for governor that he basically said he walked 1000 miles across the state of Tennessee, and each afternoon, he would mark an X, and then he would start his journey again at that X the next day, just to make sure that he didn't leave any, any stone unturned if you will. And also that he basically would go and spend the night in just ordinary Tennesseans’ homes, go to the ball games and go to their different community events, go to church with them. And so I think that was one way that he connected with Tennesseans during that time and what made him successful as a politician. So, certainly having him as a mentor, I can understand that, and we certainly appreciate his service to our state.
Sec. Hargett: Well, I’ll tell you what I think about several ways. Number one is he's just always prepared. If you ever see Senator Alexander, hear Senator Alexander speak somewhere, it's not off the cuff. I mean, he is thoughtful about what he's going to say, and anything he says is well researched.
And also, he said something very impactful to me when I was in the legislature one evening, and he would probably not remember he said it to me, but he said—and as soon as I became Republican Leader, he said, “The role of both parties should be to make the other party better.” He said, “It should be about the competition for ideas and not the competition of personalities. And when Democrats have an idea, Republicans should try and figure out how to come up with a better idea. And when Republicans come with the better idea, the Democrats should try and come up with a better idea about that.” And frankly, I think that's what we've lost a lot of is the competition for ideas, and instead, we look for personalities.
Sen. Bailey: Exactly. I think that he was also quoted just in the last few days, and I may or may not get this exactly right, but I certainly understood the meaning. He said, “From time-to-time, he would make a statement that would be controversial, and his point was always that he wanted people to think beyond what his statement was or what the situation was, and always hoped that that could bring a solution.” And he said many times, he may have been criticized because they thought that he was—in conservative circles, wasn't conservative enough, but he said he was always trying to stimulate thought for people to come up with a good solution and a good answer. So, I—
Sec. Hargett: Very true.
Sen. Bailey: I think that's a statesman. It's certainly something that politicians and those that serve their state should always strive to be, is trying to help stimulate thought and come up with that. But didn't mean to get off on Lamar, but the fact is that I think he's influenced both of our lives. One of the books that I received as a high school senior was his first book right after he’d left office that he had written about his time as governor.
That’s something that inspired me. So, let's get back and talk a little bit more about the secretary of state and the duties and responsibilities that cover many aspects of state government. So, just give us an overview of your duties and responsibilities as well as the Department of Secretary of State.
Sec. Hargett: Well, and I'll forewarn you, feel free to cut me off because I was at a deposition one day and a lawyer asked me this question and 45 minutes later, I was still talking. And they finally said, “Okay, we get it. Okay, let's move on to something else.” So, feel free to interject, obviously.
We have 30-plus employees in the secretary of state's office and we probably—for those of you who are my age or older, you will remember a Life cereal, where you had a little boy named Mikey and I think they now reinvented those commercials where it's a little girl, goes by Mikey, where, “Give it to Mikey. He'll eat anything.” And so anytime that there is something that doesn't seem to fit somewhere else, maybe, as neatly in some other corner of state government, we become the Mikey of state government; we wind up with it. We have wound up with fantasy sports oversight that way; we wound up with Charitable Solicitations and Gaming oversight, we have a division of business services that every Limited Liability Corporation—Limited Liability Partnership and Corporation in the state comes through us, in its infancy, to form, and files an annual report with us. We even have a role in international adoptions. Where someone will—
Sen. Bailey: Really?
Sec. Hargett: Yeah. So, we'll either place a certification authentication on a document of what's called an apostille, which allows a foreign government to recognize a notary here in the United States. And when I say apostille, that sounds different; it's spelled different, it's not like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and john. But we play a role in those international adoptions.
And so we have a lot of different ways like that, that when we do our job well, people probably don't notice. But when we don't do our job well, it can be the difference between a business being able to form properly, it can be the difference between family being able to come together from around the world, somebody being able to continue their education overseas, a non-profit organization who might not be doing the right things and be trying to take advantage of Tennesseans’ generous demeanor, and giving hearts. We have investigators who go out and investigate non-profit organizations or those who claim to be non-profit organizations and those who are violating the Charitable Solicitations and Gaming laws. Those are a few examples. And as you know—you and your colleagues—also helped fund the new state library archive building that will be going around the Bicentennial Mall in the spring.
Got delayed because of the tornadoes earlier this year, which I know impacted your communities. And that's going to be a real treasure for our state so we can continue to preserve the history of our state, but also make it more accessible to Tennesseans to be able to come and enjoy. And we have nine regional libraries throughout the state, one of them in Cookeville, where we provide the training, technological support, and materials to rural and suburban libraries around the state, helping build strong libraries. So, those are a few of the things. And the one that gets the most attention nowadays is elections.
Sen. Bailey: [laugh]. Right.
Sec. Hargett: And believe it or not, over 300 employees, and only about 10 of them are in the world of elections, where we work with all 95 county Election Commissions to try and make sure that Tennessee runs elections that meet the highest test of integrity. And you'll notice I didn't say Republican elections, I didn’t say Democrat elections. We just want to make sure that every vote is counted once, no more, no less; that every eligible Tennessean that wants to participate in the process has the opportunity to do so. And things went very well here overall, during the last year. It was a tough year. Been the toughest year I've had election-wise, in 2020. But things went well, and I think that's a credit to the legislature and all the thought that was put into the things that we have in place to protect the integrity of our elections.
Sen. Bailey: Well, as you know, I did a tweet not long ago, that was certainly controversial to some. Not to—
Sec. Hargett: Not everybody.
Sen. Bailey: Not to everyone. And I think that you actually followed up and said, “Hey, you're exactly right.” And the gist of the tweet was that Tennessee is doing the right things as far as their elections are concerned. And we're not experiencing a lot of—and I used the term, ‘BS’ in the tweet that other states are going through right now.
So, with what's going on in our nation today, with the controversy in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, talk a little bit about Tennessee, the fact that we have photo ID, we don't have same-day registration, we have the ability for you to request a ballot. So, speak to that just a little bit because there is a misconception between a mail-in ballot and an absentee ballot.
Sec. Hargett: Oh, absolutely. People use those interchangeably, and I have—I’ll start there. There are really two types of mail-in ballots. There is an absentee by mail ballot, in which case, a voter makes a proactive decision, “I want to vote absentee, I’m eligible to vote absentee,” and they will let the Election Commission know that they want to receive a ballot.
And there is a way to do that by email, fax, or by traditional mail. And in Tennessee, during a typical presidential election, only two and a half percent of the people typically vote absentee by mail. Now, that's in contrast with the fact that there are 14 different reasons someone can vote absentee by mail in Tennessee, and close to a third of Tennessee voters are eligible to vote absentee by mail, but only 2.5 percent do. So, that tells you Tennessee really is accustomed to voting in person, they want to vote in person.
And then, think about it: A lot of people in, especially, today's age, we think about this—fought long and hard for the right to vote, and had the opportunity to do that. And they want a physical act of being able to go to the polls and push that button, fill out a paper ballot, whatever it is. So, those are absentee by mail ballots, then there are what's called universal by mail ballots. Those are what you see in Washington, and California, Colorado, some—you know, Utah, a few other states like that. And they proactively mail a ballot to every voter.
Sen. Bailey: Let me ask—
Sec. Hargett: Go ahead.
Sen. Bailey: —because this is something that has come up in the last several weeks is the fact that—how often do we purge our voter rolls in the state of Tennessee? Because that has been a controversy in some of the states that they're mailing ballots to individuals that are deceased; they're mailing ballots to individuals that have not lived at an address for 12 months or longer. So, how does Tennessee go about purging its voter rolls to make sure that we are allowing that person that is duly registered that lives at that address to come in and vote and we try to mitigate any kind of voter fraud?
Sec. Hargett: Great question. So, first, you cannot make any changes to your voter rolls, you cannot remove anybody from the voter rolls within 90 days of a federal election. So, anything I'm saying to you does not apply during that window, okay? So, you can't remove somebody—I mean, if you know somebody is deceased, I mean, you can, but I mean, you can't do anything else in regards to that.
So, that's the first thing. But list maintenance is a constant effort on behalf of election officials around the state. And so, they're always looking at the obituaries. We're working to get information from the United States government, and get from vital records and look at death records to see if people need to be removed. And then what will happen is local election officials mail out to people, or contact next of kin and be able to verify whether or not somebody did in fact pass.
Or if they have a reason to believe somebody moved, they reach out and check those things. And local Election Commissions are always sending—I say ‘always.’ They’re mailing out to the voter list, and if they have a reason to believe somebody’s moved, they go back and they check based on that first-class mailing: did it bounce back? And they go back to try and figure out what happened with that voter. And so, list maintenance is not something that happens once in a while.
It happens on a continual basis on behalf of the Election Commissions in their respective counties. And they know those counties best. There's one congressman who likes to put out on Twitter that we're constantly purging people on the voter rolls. It's something that even if we believe that you may have moved, you still—you will go into an inactive status for a period in which you can still come to the polls and we will work to verify whether or not you are still a registered voter in that area. So, those are all things that stay in place to make sure that the voter rolls are pure in Tennessee.
One of the things I encountered when I first came into state government—or I say in state government. In the secretary of state's office, in my first year in office, we found about 13,000 deceased people on the voter rolls—
Sen. Bailey: Oh, wow.
Sec. Hargett: —that shouldn't have been on the voter rolls. And so we moved to get those deceased people off the voter rolls. Now, I don’t want people to believe that was like an episode of The Walking Dead when you went to vote in the elections, but the bottom line is, especially under the old law, before photo ID law, that would have created an opportunity for fraud, and for somebody else to show up with a utility bill or whatever, and try and vote in the name of that deceased person. So, those are all the kind of things that we do to make sure the voter rolls are accurate in the state of Tennessee.
Sen. Bailey: And again, I go back and reiterate one of my comments that I made earlier, I'm proud of Tennessee and the fact that we want every legal person to be able to cast their vote and cast at one time, but at the same time, we try to make sure that there is integrity in place for those individuals, Tennesseans, going to vote, that there's a photo ID so that when you walk in, you're having to present a credential showing that you are who you say you are to be able to vote. Because again, to me, this is one of the most sacred things as a Tennessee citizen as well as a United States citizen that we can do, is vote. Men and women have fought and died for my right and for all others to be able to choose their government, choose their leaders, and we want to make sure that it's fair. And so, with that, again, pointing back to some of these states that are having controversies, and thinking about Tennessee, election laws are determined by state legislatures.
Sec. Hargett: That's right.
Sen. Bailey: And so you, as secretary of state, or secretary of state of another state—and I'll just use Georgia because, obviously, during this podcast, all eyes are focused on Georgia. And basically, there's been a lot of criticism of the current secretary of state in Georgia in the way that he has handled some of the controversies there. Some of it could be a founded criticism, some of it not so founded criticism. You also had the Governor of Arizona, Ducey, come out yesterday and basically said, “Look, I'm following the state's law and certifying this election.
There is a process that you want to contest that, but as far as the Governor and following the state law, I'm having to do this. But there is a process for you to do that.” I said a lot of that to come back and say you, or a secretary of state, become the lightning rod when there is a controversy regarding elections, especially if there is a presumption of voter fraud. And you have to follow what the legislature has said that state’s voter laws are.
Sec. Hargett: Well, that's right, Senator. And one of the things we came under fire, that we were hit with a lot of different lawsuits during this year, during this pandemic, about people who tried to either weaken our election laws or just change our election laws through the courts. In one case, the judge screamed, “Shame on you—” I say scream. Said, “Shame on you,” and told us, “I didn't tell you to do it that way.”
And then she turned back around and change the forum in a way where she told us not to do it. And so that was an interesting process, but what we have to do is we run elections based on the laws as they're given to us. In the past, we've suggested changes from time-to-time. We're not real quick to do that. I was a supporter of the photo ID law; I was a supporter of trying to make sure that people who were trying to register to vote can be able to know that their voter registration gets turned in a timely fashion.
Those are few things we have supported. But our job is to administer the law. And I don't get to just go make it up and say, “Well, I know that's the law, but I like to go do it differently.” And one of the real keys here is that if the wrong person in this office had that opportunity to make it up as they went along, they'd be more powerful than the entire legislature and the governor to be able to change the rules in mid-game. So, we made a very conscious decision back in mi-March that any plans we made, we were going to do that based on what Tennessee law said and not any individual opinions we might have had, any fleeting thoughts we might have had: we had to uphold the law. And that was painful at times; it was questioned a lot, but in the end, I think it proved to be the right decisions when you look at how we conducted our elections in August and November.
Sen. Bailey: Yeah. I'm assuming that there is a secretary of state association that you're a part of, and obviously, you know a lot of the secretary of states. But I guess my question is, do you think there have been some in other states—other secretary of states—that have not followed what the current law is? Can you speak to that, or are you just mostly focused on Tennessee?
That's not intended to be a gotcha question, but obviously, there's been some discussion that some secretaries of state have gone beyond what the state law says that their legislators have passed for election laws and basically done their own interpretation of that, and extended that. And obviously, that's where some of these lawsuits that have been found against those states are coming from is that, again, state legislature sets the law. The secretary of state is supposed to implement what the legislature has passed, but now some states, they're saying that the secretary of state has done their own interpretation and it's primarily they're using the excuse of COVID pandemic to do that reinterpretation.
Sec. Hargett: Sure, no question about that. In my opinion—and I'm not an expert on other state’s laws—
Sen. Bailey: Right.
Sec. Hargett: —and you said this earlier. I've been focused on Tennessee. I watch the news, I read the news like other people, and I don't believe everything I read, I don't believe everything I see, but what you can have happen is, in some states, if a secretary of state doesn't really support the law that's in place and an attorney general doesn't really support the law that in place, and let's say those could be different parties between the legislature and the secretary of state, and then they get sued. And in our case, we got sued and we didn't necessarily agree with the interpretation that we were sued over, so we stood our ground, and we went to court.
In other states, what there might be the predisposition to do is if you don't agree with the law but somebody sues you and you agree with the base of the lawsuit, you just kind of hold your hands up and say, “Okay, you got me. Yeah, we'll enter into consent decree. We’ll do what you want us to do.” And it allows a circumvention, potentially, of that state's law by an attorney general and/or a secretary of state. So, that very well could have happened.
Sen. Bailey: One other controversy surrounding the various states is the Dominion Voting Systems. Does Tennessee have Dominion Voting Systems?
Sec. Hargett: We have two counties in the state of Tennessee: Hamilton County and Williamson County have Dominion Voting Systems. And so let me kind of give people an understanding of how a voting system comes to be used in the state of Tennessee. And we have multiple election machine vendors in Tennessee, there's one that's Election Systems and Software, There's another one that’s Dominion, another one, it's called MicroVote, and another one that’s Hart, another one's that’s [00:27:46 Harp], and every one of those machines is certified by the Election Assistance Commission. Okay?
And then, after that happens, a vendor will come to Tennessee and say, “We want to be on your list to be eligible for purchase.” And at that point, the State Election Commission, usually at least one Republican and one Democrat—you want to have bipartisan support there, they will go and view that machine under what's called ‘duress.’ And I say that—they'll go view it in some other state to be—watch it—at least two candidates have to be involved in a race. It can't just be a bunch of unopposed automatic race or city council races or what have you. And they'll go watch that machine be opened at the polls; they'll watch it throughout the day, and they'll watch them close the polls with it and they'll look for different areas where they see might be weaknesses, technologically or just system-wise, and so all those machines come through that process.
And then, let's take an example of Williamson County—and I don't know all of Williamson County's purchasing requirements—they will put out a RFP and they'll say anybody that wants to do business with us, bid. And Dominion was the winning bid in Williamson County, and so that's who their vendor is. Just like in multiple other counties around the state, like I said, there's only two that have Dominion. There's 93 other counties that have another vendor out there that was selected through their election commission process, and later by the county commission.
Sen. Bailey: Well, of course, a lot of controversy came about during the Bush-Gore years. And that's when a lot of states started looking at their election laws; they also started looking at their voting machines, and there was legislation that was brought forth in regards to that. And of course, I remember, as someone on the fringes of wanting to be in politics, my county was using the punch cards, same as what they were using in Florida that was the hanging chad story. And one of the gentlemen that was on the local election commission, he basically talked about how that he thought that was a fair system.
Yes, he could see how they could basically try to stack the deck and punch out more holes, but he said you had a physical card. And the machines that the county ultimately went to was more of a computer system where you went in you just punched the person, but there was no hard copy as far as a paper. Interestingly enough, the county is now going to a hard paper system that scans it in, and so you now have a hard copy. And I'm saying all that to say that when you have just a system that does not have a paper trail to follow—so to speak—his argument was always it could be manipulated. It's a computer system, it could be manipulated, and obviously, that's what they're saying about the Dominion systems.
Sec. Hargett: But ironically enough on Dominion systems, those are paper ballots.
Sen. Bailey: Oh, okay.
Sec. Hargett: And so, you have the physical ballot there that you can go back and recount. And both in Hamilton, Williamson County, by law—as you remember, that y’all put into place—those paper ballot counties have to have some type of audit done. And depending on the size of the county, that's what determines the size of the audit. And both in Hamilton County and Williamson County the day after the election, they did an audit of those ballots, and with no irregularities, and.
They did the ultimate audit in Georgia where they hand-counted every ballot afterwards. So, a lot of those things get mixed up, and so I think it's important for people to understand that. And I'm not trying to defend any other state—
Sen. Bailey: Oh, I know that.
Sec. Hargett: —and I know you know that. But in Georgia, they re-han-counted those ballots. Now, what they're really talking about now in Georgia is signature verification, what processes were in place to verify those signatures and then, once those are counted, ultimately, you separate the ballot envelope from the ballot because that protects the privacy of the vote. Once you start going back to a recount, all of those ballots are commingled together. So, that's really—once you get to a recount, you can't go back and really re-verify signatures.
Sen. Bailey: Oh, okay.
Sec. Hargett: And so I think that's part of what the dispute is in Georgia.
Sen. Bailey: I got you, I got you. So, what can Tennessee do to ensure that we never end up in a mess like we're seeing in these other states?
Sec. Hargett: You know, Mark Goins and I have talked about this a lot, and you don't want to you want to brag, but Mark Goins said his team and all 95 county election commissions around the state did a great job of upholding the integrity of Tennessee's elections. And what I think the election shows is our laws worked. I mean, the safeguards that we put into place in Tennessee worked. And I had a few phone calls with Shelby County yesterday where people were talking about concerns over a congressional race down there.
And I asked every one of them, I said, “Tell me what you want me to look at. Just give me one nugget and tell me what irregularity you saw? What might have been fraud?” And every one of those people said, “Well, I don't know. I just feel like somebody ought to look at it.”
And so I think, unfortunately, what we are an age of right now, Senator, is for the last four years, we watched the people who were supporters of Hillary Clinton believe there's no way Donald Trump actually won. And for four years, they cried foul over the legitimacy of the election and they have worked to delegitimize the current president. And somebody had asked me that day on phone call said, “How long does this go on? I mean, what does this happen?” I said, “Four more years.”
Sen. Bailey: Exactly. Exactly.
Sec. Hargett: I mean so now, the shoe is, frankly, on the other foot, where they are 70-plus million voters of Trump—and not all those are going to feel this way, but there's a large number of people out there who feel like this election was not done right, and are going to believe that Joe Biden if he's ultimately elected by the Electoral College, is going to not be legitimate. And that's where we are as a society, how polarized things are. And also, people have the ability for confirmation bias.
If you feel a certain way, you watch a certain network, and they'll tell you back, really, kind of what you want to hear, depending on which side of the aisle you’re on. And so you really have to work hard to recognize that, okay, just because all my friends on Facebook are saying something, that's not necessarily how something is. As both parties, we've got to do better at that.
Sen. Bailey: Well, and again, one of the reasons that I wanted you to be on our show is to simply let Tennesseans have a comfort level that when they go to vote, that their vote is going to be counted, it's going to be counted once, and that Tennessee has fair elections, and that you're following what the state legislature has set out in state law regarding our elections. And so, again, I can't say this enough: I'm so proud of our state. And the controversy was, again about my little tweet as, “Well, not all the votes are counted.” Well, I think you confirmed with me the next day that basically 98 to 99 percent of the votes had been counted. [laugh].
And so, those that had won were basically, they had actually won. It wasn't a situation where we had 49 percent of the votes had actually been counted and we were still waiting on 51 percent. We were at nearly 100 percent, at 99 percent. And so there wasn't going to be a change, especially in the presidential or congressional races, that those were very decisively decided. And so we just want to make sure, and again, so proud of Tennessee and what we've done.
So, in regards to that, you think that our current laws that we have, nothing needs to be tweaked, nothing needs to be changed. As you know, legislature reconvenes in January, January the 12th. Nothing needs to be changed.
Sec. Hargett: You know, we're going to visit with you and other members of the legislature to see what your thoughts are, and what you're hearing. We're going to visit with other election officials, and frankly, we'll probably look at some other states and see about maybe some of the problems they had, and try and figure out, do we have a loophole somewhere that we need to go in and close off, in order to make sure we protect the integrity of Tennessee elections, at the same time ensuring that every eligible Tennessean and has the opportunity to participate.
Sen. Bailey: Gotcha. Well, let's segue into, basically, a final question as we move to the end, and you're part of a panel that decides which statues remain inside the state capitol, and obviously, over the last several years, there's been some controversy over the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue or bust that's there on the second floor. Kind of give me your thoughts behind that, kind of educate our listeners to the whole controversy surrounding the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust and give us your take on that.
Sec. Hargett: Well, sure. Now, first, obviously, that bust was placed there by resolution of the democratically controlled General Assembly, over 40 years ago. Then, a few years back, as a result of some things that happened in other parts of the state, the legislature passed a Preservation Act that laid out a process by which anything could be changed, you know, when you move any type of monument from a state property. So, Governor Lee put forth a proposal to the Capital Commission, which I serve on, as well as some other citizen members, members of the Cabinet, other constitutional officers, and put together a proposal—which was ultimately amended to include also two other busts that sit on the second floor of the state capitol—to be moved to another part of a state facility, be it the State Museum, or a different type of exhibit.
Or for a Hall of Heroes somewhere else inside state government. You know, we have a military museum in state government that most people know about. So, that ultimately passed, and then it’s now headed on to the Historical Commission. Now, those speakers raised a question recently, hey, not so fast. It looks like the State Building Commission also might need to weigh in on that.
And I think their words aren't ‘might.’ That will need to weigh in. Of course, right now, it's a subject of litigation. There's a group that has sued the Capitol Commission, the state of Tennessee, saying that its actions weren't legitimate. And so we'll see how that litigation turns out.
I know the Historical Commission has voted to, I believe, take up the issue, which also starts up a long legal process of public hearings for them to ultimately listen to the input of Tennessee, and make the decision about what they do. So, the system is not built for speed—
Sen. Bailey: Gotcha.
Sec. Hargett: —is what I would say, and I think the legislature is very intentional about they didn't want anybody just to be able 50 and 17 votes to be able to walk up and pull something off the walls, anywhere. And they wanted to build up a process, like I said, that wasn't built for speed. And so, that's where we are right now.
Sen. Bailey: Very good. As Secretary of State, you serve on many boards and commissions. Could you basically expound on that just a little bit for our listeners? Again, your department is very vast, it touches nearly every Tennessean in many different ways, but beyond just being secretary of state, and that department, you sit on these boards and commissions. Would you.
Sec. Hargett: Great question, Senator. As you know, I serve on about 15 different boards and commissions ranging to a few that we mentioned earlier, but also the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, which I know Tennessee Tech in your district’s near and dear to your heart, and that's one of those that we have the opportunity to oversee the THEC. But the one that comes to my mind, in most recent news is State Funding Board in which we play a role in projecting revenue estimates for the year, which you base your budget on as the legislature, and also we present to credit ratings agencies every year.
Sen. Bailey: And you mentioned that you usually go with the governor, comptroller, treasurer—
Sec. Hargett: Yeah. The governor, commissioner of finance administration, treasurer, comptroller, and myself. And we present to the creditworthiness of the state. And we have the highest credit ratings possible because of how you and your colleagues had managed the state.
And so even during this pandemic, we had been very thoughtful, very deliberate, and I say we: as a state, there's a lot to be proud of in how we managed our money that we have been more prepared than, potentially, some other states have been during this pandemic. And so, that's allowed us as a state to be very fiscally conservatively managed, to be one of the least indebted states in the country, to be one of the least taxed states in the country. And that doesn't just happen by accident; that happens because the legislature's made a very deliberate decision about how we want Tennessee to be run. And the final thing I would say is, when I say it doesn't just magically happen: I had a lady who called me one day a while back and was just wearing me out over different things that our state doesn't do. And I said, “Ma’am, where are you from? And she said, I just moved from Oregon.”
Sen. Bailey: Right, yeah.
Sec. Hargett: And I said, “Well, ma'am,” I said, “With all due respect,” I said, “Why’d you move here?” She said, “Well, I couldn't afford to live there anymore.”
Sen. Bailey: Exactly.
Sec. Hargett: And I said, “The reason you couldn't afford to live there anymore is because they were taxing you for all those things.” And so, we are a very well-managed state due to good leadership at the governor level, but also for a legislature that has been very fiscally conservative. And I applaud you and your colleagues for that.
Sen. Bailey: Well, thank you. And it's just an honor to be able to serve in a state that has been so fiscally managed in a conservative manner, but yet, at the same time, deliver services to its constituents above and beyond, be basically a debt-free state, that it's just when you go to these conferences, and you hear from other state legislators that they are running huge deficits, and they're borrowing money, they can't pay their lottery tickets because they've taken all their lottery money, Tennessee has so many things to be thankful for. And I think that that's a reason why, when you talk to Commissioner Rolfe at ECD, so many companies are looking to move to Tennessee. They're wanting to find a place that they can operate their business without being just taxed to no end. And I think that's a tribute to you. You came before me as a legislator, now as the secretary of state. So, thank you.
Sec. Hargett: Well, it's a predictable environment, and they know here in Tennessee, it's going to be a light rule and regulatory burden. Unlike some other states like California, Illinois, and others that are going to move the goalposts on them in the middle of the game, and change the rules on them. They know in Tennessee, they get a fair shake, and they get to keep more of what they earn.
Sen. Bailey: Yeah, absolutely. You've been listening to Backroads and Backstories with Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Senator Paul Bailey. Any final thoughts?
Sec. Hargett: We've covered a lot of ground, Senator. I would like to thank you for how you've supported our department and held our feet to the fire. Because of you and your colleagues, we have taken a department that, when I came into office, was 445 funded employees, and now we’re at 363 funded employees. And I've yet to have anybody in state government or anywhere around the state says, “Tre, gosh, I just wish you had more people.” And we took a budget that, if you take out the effects of inflation, is really well below where it was when I first took office. And that's a credit to how you have expected me to run my office and represent you. And so I thank you for your leadership and that of your colleagues, as well.
Sen. Bailey: Well, thank you for taking the time out today to visit with us, and visit with our listeners. Thank you for listening to Backroads and Backstories. We’ll see you next time.
Announcer: Thank you for listening to the Backroads and Backstories podcast, with Senator Paul Bailey. You can keep up with the latest on the podcast at backroadsandbackstories.com. And subscribe, rate, and review the show on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever fine podcasts are distributed. Thanks again for listening, and we’ll see you next time on the Backroads and Backstories podcast.