Bishop keeps eye on voting process

Mar. 07, 2013 @ 11:16 PM

Jim Bishop is one dedicated poll watcher.

Since Feb. 22, when early voting began in Pigeon Forge's liquor referendum, Bishop has been at the Sevier County Election Commission all day, every day.

"So far it seems that everything has been done correctly," he said. "It looks like they're going out of their way to make sure everyone who votes is a qualified voter."

Bishop registered as an official poll watcher on behalf of Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, the group that campaigns against liquor by the drink. Under state law, poll watchers can be named by political parties and citizen groups.

Concerned Churches named only one poll watcher for early voting, Bishop. Forging Ahead, the pro-liquor group, named 19.

Forging Ahead volunteers have watched early voting only on some days.

Then there is Bishop. "I haven't missed a day," he said.

Tuesday at the election commission, Bishop sat on a folding chair. He wore black pants and a tan corduroy jacket. Poll workers sat behind a counter to his right. Voting machines were in a room to his left.

He recorded data on a pad of paper. Since voting began, he has noted the number of voters, appearances by other poll watchers, media visits.

"I'm tracking everything that's going on," he said.

For a poll watcher, there can be idle moments. Bishop passes the time by playing chess on his phone. "I've played since I was a kid," he said.

He drinks water. He does not eat lunch. "Maybe I'll eat some chocolate," he said.

Poll watchers are not allowed to talk to voters. That has made for awkward moments.

"Sometimes they will tell the person I'm not allowed to speak," said Bishop, referring to election workers. "Sometimes I'm just left looking stuck up."

Forging Ahead chairman Ken Maples has spent a day and a half watching early voting. He also struggles with the speaking ban.

"That makes it difficult for someone like me who loves to talk and say hello to people," he said. "It's kind of hard to keep your mouth shut."

Maples is satisfied with the early voting process. "We feel comfortable with what we've observed so far," he said. "There have been a couple of questions from voters, and the election commission has handled them very well."

In January, a judge voided November's referendum legalizing liquor by the drink in Pigeon Forge. A new referendum is set for March 14. Early voting runs through March 9.

By the end of Monday, 725 Pigeon Forge residents and property owners had voted early.