Mood generally even, controlled at voting site Thursday

Mar. 14, 2013 @ 11:01 PM

When you're holding the only election in the state, much less the county, you get a lot of attention: local, state and possibly even divine.

During Thursday's do-over of the liquor by the drink referendum, the Sevier County Election Commission was present, Administrator of Elections Ronee Flynn was there, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins stopped by. And some local churchgoers circled the municipal complex praying for the Almighty to intervene.

"There's nothing positive about alcohol," said Pastor Jonathan Hatcher, of Conner Heights Baptist Church, who was among those involved in the prayer march where voting took place. "Our goal is to help people see the truth of alcoholism."

There were people from several diferent churches coming in shifts to circle the complex and pray throughout the day, according to Hatcher. He said Don Denney, who is running for City Commission in the May election, organized the event.

Hargett said he and Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins came to help answer any questions that might arise.

"We're here to support them any way we can," he said. "There's not another election going on in the state."

That's because Chancellor Telford Forgety had to order a special election in January after Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Froge contested the results of the November election. The Election Commission eventually acknowledged that workers on that day had allowed about 300 people to vote on the municipal ballot who shouldn't have.

Officials say the confusion stemmed from having the city election on the same day as the presidential and state elections. Voters from outside the city vote at the Pigeon Forge precinct during those elections, and some staffers apparently believed they should be allowed to vote in the city election as well.

The election commission brought in an entirely different staff to handle the vote in Thursday's election, which also didn't feature any other ballot measures that would draw people who aren't registered to vote in the city.

Still, some out-of-town voters did try to cast ballots. One woman was overheard saying, "But they told me I could vote in the last one," which brought a dry response from the election worker: "That's why we're redoing it."

Election commissioners said they brought in their top staff from throughout the county to work at the polling place this time around. Hargett was pleased with their work when he spoke to a reporter awhile after arriving Thursday morning, saying "The poll workers seem very well prepared for what's going on."

Commission Chairman J.B. Matthews said the election was running smoothly shortly after lunch. "No big problems," he said. "I think everything's going fine."

One person, he said, mentioned to him that he didn't recognize any of the staff working at the election from when they were there in November

There were a large number of registrars and several machines available. With one yes or no question to consider, voters were able to move through pretty quickly. The only waits usually came when several people arrived with last names that were close together in the alphabet. The registrars were divided up by names — for example, one handled people with last names starting with A through H.

On occasions, that could lead to a handful of people waiting in line as they completed the paperwork and process of getting ready to vote, but overall people were able to get in and out quickly for most of the day.

When the polls opened at 8 a.m., there were already a handful of people waiting at the door to vote, and once the doors opened more people scurried in from their cars, where they'd retreated from the crisp temperatures.

Representatives of pro-liquor group Forging Ahead and opposition group Concerned Churches Citizens of Pigeon Forge started the morning standing near each other in the parking lot, although they drifted apart later.

There were some small disputes outside — at one point Forging Ahead Chairman Ken Maples complained that people with anti-liquor signs were too close to the entrance to the polling place. Election officials eventually acknowledged that a sign denoting the boundary was placed at the edge of a sidewalk when the true 100-foot boundary would be in a road.

David Cobb, who lives outside the city but came to voice his opposition to the sale of liquor in Pigeon Forge, said he was not affiliated with CCCPF, but agreed to move to a sign at the corner of the complex.

After that, Maples went to Cobb directly and told him he believed Cobb was still too close. The two exchanged words for a moment, but Cobb agreed to move a little farther away.

Maples maintained Cobb had been impeding entrance to the complex as he tried to get he attentional of people driving in; Cobb said he had orginally been standing in areas where election officials told him he could go, and that he moved when asked.

— Staff Writer Robbie Hargett contributed to this story.