2 sides prepare for new election

Jan. 10, 2013 @ 06:59 PM

With Chancellor Telford Forgety’s decision to void the results of the Nov. 6 liquor by the drink referendum and hold a special election, the two campaign groups are getting set to grapple over the issue one more time.

Forgety ordered Sevier County Election Commission to schedule a new election within 45 to 60 days.

The scheduling was the one victory of the day for Forging Ahead, the group that campaigned in favor of liquor by the drink. Their attorney, Greg Isaacs, argued Forgety should follow a state rule calling for the election to be scheduled in that time frame. Lewis Howard Jr., the attorney for the anti liquor campaign group Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, argued the judge was not shackled by that regulation in this case and it would be more convenient to hold the referendum in May during municipal elections. Dennis Francis, who represented the election commission, said it would be more convenient and less expensive to hold the election alongside the city election in May, but he believed the law called for it to be held within 45 to 60 days.

Forging Ahead Chairman Ken Maples said his organization was disappointed Forgety overturned the election results, but was prepared to start campaigning.

“We’ve said in the past we’re going to live with the decision of the court,” Maples said Thursday. “We’re going to do that, we’re going to honor it. We’re going to go to work tomorrow, we’re probably going to work this afternoon on our campaign and hope we can win this thing.”

He said they believe the public will be better served by having the referendum in a special election because there will be no confusion on which issue voters are considering — for the voters, or for poll workers.

“We understand human error was made but let’s not cloud this with even a May election that has city candidates on it. Let’s make it a single issue, single focus referendum. No disrespect to anybody, it would be hard to have any type of error in that.”

The Election Commission conceded that its workers made errors that allowed ineligible voters to participate in the referendum, rendering the true results of the vote “incurably uncertain.” Officials said it was the first time Pigeon Forge poll workers had to deal with voters coming from outside the city to vote in a general election at the same time city voters considered an issue in a municipal election. Some workers apparently allowed voters who lived outside the city but came to the precinct to vote in the general election to also vote in the municipal election.

In the meantime, the chairman of the victorious Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge indicated the group would wait to issue any statement until it can meet Monday. Jess Davis was present at the proceedings, sitting beside attorney Lewis Howard Jr., but did not have to testify and declined to comment beyond saying the organization would issue a statement next week.

Members of the Election Commission present for the proceedings, along with Administrator of Election Ronee Flynn, declined to comment for this story.

Francis indicated the short turnaround ahead of a special election could make it more difficult for the election commission to let others know there’s a special election coming, but the election commission would be ready to meet the judge’s requirements.

“It just means you have to follow your guidelines to run a proper election. Does it make it more difficult? Yes. The court has ordered it, and we’ll comply with the court’s order.

Charles Rhodes, the CCCPF member who first drew attention to the illegal votes, told reporters he wasn’t convinced the 45- to 60-day window would give the election commission time to correct the problems that led to the improper votes.

“Forty-five to 60 days I don’t think is enough time to correct all the errors that occurred in this electoral process,” he said. However, he said he hoped the community would unite in helping the election commissioners in trying to make sure similar mistakes don’t happen in the future.

Flynn indicated Wednesday she had already been considering steps to avoid future issues, including making sure poll workers understood how to handle the different rosters if the city ever has another municipal issue arise on the same ballot as a general election. She said if the judge ordered a special election she would be present at the Pigeon Forge City Hall voting precinct.