Forge voters OK liquor sales, but other side may contest results

Mar. 14, 2013 @ 10:24 PM

On Thursday, city residents and property owners voted to approve liquor by the drink, 952-798.

Shortly after voting ended Thursday night, election commission chairman J.B. Matthews announced the results to a crowd that gathered at the City Hall polling place. The response was muted. Supporters and opponents of liquor by the drink were in the group.

Tuesday's vote came after a judge, citing polling irregularities, voided the Nov. 6 referendum that legalized liquor by the drink.

The Sevier County Election Commission will meet to certifiy the vote on March 21.

"We're pleased, quite obviously," said Ken Maples, chairman of the pro-liquor campaign group Forging Ahead. "The voters reaffirmed what they voted for in November." He spoke at City Hall.

Now, Maples said, "We wait for the result to be certified, and then we start to work with our opponents to bring the city back together. We're going to start the healing process."

"We're disappointed," said Jess Davis, co-chairman of the anti-liquor group Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge. He said his group may contest the election on the grounds that some people who voted as property owners were not eligible to do so.

Davis spoke at his restaurant, Wood Grill Buffet. He dined there Thursday night to break the seven-day fast he said he undertook as a campaign activity.

A Concerned Churches attorney will examine recent property transfers, Davis said. "He says that if they're not transfers for the purpose of business and not voting, they're not legitimate."

Davis criticized the controversial practice of 1 percent voting, meaning owners of property in that small an amount can vote. "Whether we challenge or not, it's not right," he said. "We didn't do that (encourage property owners to vote) because it's not right."

If Concerned Churches contests the result, "It's not sour grapes," Davis said. "It's part of the election process."

Forging Ahead had poll watchers inside the voting precinct, but Concerned Citizens did not. Officials said Concerned Citizens did not file the necessary paperwork to have poll watchers finside the voting precinct on referendum day. The group did have a poll watcher, Jim Bishop, on hand for most of the early-voting period.

kburns@themountainpress.com