Mistakes lead election officials to wrongly purge some voter names

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Errors originating in the office of the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk's Office are impacting agencies outside the City County Building where the department operates.

A WBIR Channel 10 investigation into problems in the office discovered that clerk's mistakes may have caused some residents to lose their right to vote, according to documents obtained under the state's open record laws.

Here's what happened:

The criminal court clerk's office is responsible for sending "infamous card" notifications to the Knox County Election Commission when someone is convicted of a felony – since felons are not allowed to vote in Tennessee.

Election officials then purge that person's name from the voting registry. The name also is placed in a statewide database to prevent that person from registering to vote in other counties. The information also is sent to the State Election Commission.

RECORDS: Infamous card and letter from criminal court clerk

On Sept. 3, the clerk's office sent notification that Rebecca Sue McSwords was convicted in August of a felony, and "therefore should be purged from the registration records."

But, on Oct. 14, Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey sent the election commission a letter, saying a mistake was made.

"This letter is to confirm to you that on Aug. 17, 2013, an infamous card was done in error for Rebecca Sue McSwords," it states. "Ms. McSwords was charged with Driving Without a License in Possession, in a C-Misdemeanor charge. Our records indicate that the Infamous Card was printed August 30, 2013 and sent to the Election Commission Office. We are enclosing a copy of this judgment so you may correct your records accordingly."

McSwords could not be reached for comment.

The criminal court clerk's office typically sends "a stack of cards" every three or four weeks to the election commission, said Administrator of Elections Clifford Rodgers. Overall, the office receives hundreds of the cards each year, and Rodgers said his staff told him that it typically needs to correct mistakes such as the one made to McSwords record "about five or six times a year."

He said they're "not difficult to undo, but it takes time."

He said either the criminal court clerk's office discovers the mistakes and informs his office, or his workers find out when someone registers to vote and a felony appears on the record.

He said his office relies on the information provided to him by the criminal court clerk's office because it doesn't have its own independent means to keep up with newly convicted felons.

McCroskey's office maintains the official records of the Fourth Circuit Court, General Sessions and Criminal Court.

McCroskey, who did not return a call seeking comment Thursday, has come under fire in the past week for what officials are now calling a systemic problem that has led to wrongful arrests, wrongfully revoked driver's licenses, and unwarranted convictions.

McCroskey has said the problems are exaggerated and politically motivated. She is up for re-election next year.

She also has told WBIR that she plans to attend Monday's Knox County Commission meeting to answer questions at the request of board Chairman Brad Anders.

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