Date set for new referendum

March 14 vote for liquor referendum
Jan. 17, 2013 @ 05:43 PM

The new Pigeon Forge Liquor by the Drink referendum is now officially set for Thursday, March 14.

The Sevier County Election Commission set the date at a special called meeting Thursday afternoon.

It appeared Pigeon Forge voters had approved the sale of liquor by the drink in the city in the Nov. 6 election on a 1,232 to 1,132 vote. But the group that opposed the measure, Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, contested the results after finding that about 300 ineligible voters were allowed to vote on the matter, and Chancellor Telford Forgety ruled the election would have to be redone last week.

When Forgety signed an order to that effect Tuesday, the election commission

The election commission eventually acknowledge the mistake on the day the trial would have taken place, saying that some poll workers at Pigeon Forge City Hall allowed people from outside the city to vote on the referendum on election day. The election commission has maintained that the workers were confused on a hectic election day that saw the largest turnout in Sevier County history. It was the first time a Pigeon Forge city election of any kind was held on the same day as a general election, and the poll workers failed to distinguish between voters from outside pigeon Forge who came to that precinct to vote in the general election, and Pigeon Forge voters who were supposed to vote in both elections, according to the commission.

As part of an agreement that saw the election commission acknowledged the error and admit the election results were incurably uncertain and should be tossed, CCCPF agreed to drop allegations that voter fraud also played a part in the election results.

Forging Ahead, the group that campaigned in favor of the referendum, joined the proceedings as a defendant after Forgety let the group intervene as a third party, but Forgety did not agree with its argument that the election results could be upheld by tossing the number of questionable votes and apportioning out the remaining votes based on the same percentages as the original voting total.

It’s the fourth time Pigeon Forge voters will consider the matter since 2009. Voters rejected the referendum in 2009 and 2011. Normally a referendum can only be added to a ballot every two years, but the Pigeon Forge City Commission asked the state to waive that requirement after a bill circulated that would only have allowed liquor sales in one district of the city.

Election Commission and state officials have said state law left the commission no choice but to certify the totals after the election, despite CCCPF raising questions at the time. Certifying only means they are verifying the numbers, and not whether individual voters were eligible to participate, officials said. But officials with the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which issues liquor licenses, said the ABC had no choice but to issue liquor licenses once the results were certified, even after CCCPF contested the election.

As a result, 11 businesses obtained licenses before Forgety tossed the election results and they are still selling liquor. The ABC has said it won’t suspend the licenses without a valid court order calling for it to do so.

CCCPF could have sought an injunction stopping ABC from issuing the licenses as part of the election commission. To date, Chairman Jess Davis has not answered questions from The Mountain Press about why the group didn’t take that action.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com