Pro-liquor group wants to be part of election contest; hearing planned next week

Dec. 28, 2012 @ 10:23 AM

Chancellor Telford Forgety could decide at the end of next week whether the group that campaigned for liquor by the drink in Pigeon Forge can join in the defense of the election contest filed by opponents of the measure.

Forgety has set a Jan. 4 date to hear Forging Ahead’s motion to intervene in the lawsuit, meaning he could consider the motion a week ahead of the date to hear the case brought by Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge. Court officials have said the case has to be heard by Jan. 11 to meet a 50-day deadline to consider contests of election. Forgety is set to hear the matter Jan. 10 and 11.

However, CCCPF filed a motion Thursday evening to quash the Jan. 4 hearing date, saying it didn’t receive notice of the hearing at the proper time under state regulations. It isn’t yet clear when Forgety will consider the newest motion.

The election complaint filed days after the Nov. 6 vote names the Sevier County Election Commission and its individual members as defendants, and does not mention Forging Ahead. It notes there were about 300 votes cast in the election that didn’t come from eligible voters the commission can account for.

However, Forging Ahead’s motion to intervene indicates the group believes it should be allowed to be party to the lawsuit so it can protect its interests and those of voters who supported the referendum.

“We believe the referendum supporters and voters deserve representation and protection in this referendum process and vote,” Forging Ahead Chairman Ken Maples said in a prepared statement.

The certified result for the election was 1,232 votes in favor of allowing the sale of liquor by the drink in city restaurants, and 1,132 against.

State officials have said the questions about the election couldn’t prevent the election commission from certifying the tally, but that a party that opposed the referendum could file a contest of election once it was certified. To win that kind of case, state coordinator of election Mark Goins said, plaintiffs usually have to demonstrate there were enough questionable votes cast to render the outcome incurably uncertain.

“Typically if you have a 100-vote margin, you’re going to need to show 100 votes were in question,” he said in a November interview with The Mountain Press.

CCCPF’s complaint notes there are additional questions revolving around whether some property owners voted illegally. The city allows nonresident property owners to vote in municipal elections, but the law includes several restrictions such as a limit of two property owners using any single piece of property. CCCPF’s complaint claims election records show the number of property owners voting connected to some pieces of property exceeded that number. It also claims some used incomplete information when they registered.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com