It was no surprise that Chancellor Telford Forgety overturned the Nov. 6 liquor referendum results in Pigeon Forge. When the defendants are admitting to the very problems alleged in the election challenge, you know the judge had no choice but to toss it.
Now what? Yes, there will be another referendum in February. But can Sevier County voters be assured that the issues that created the fouled-up Nov. 6 election won’t happen again? That is the critical question, not just for the special referendum but for all elections henceforth in this community.
The Sevier County Election Commission’s primary role in local government is to run elections, to maintain the voter rolls and ensure that only those registered voters get to vote in their proper jurisdictions. On that score the agency failed miserably last fall in one polling place. Because of the lack of training of at least one poll worker and misguided directions from another, depositions show, the liquor referendum outcome was tainted and had to be overturned.
When the Election Commission panel voted Wednesday evening — the day before the election trial was to begin — to acknowledge it made fatal mistakes — not fraudulent, but errors nonetheless — in the referendum, it was a clear signal that Chancellor Forgety could not let the results stand. The fact the agency that runs elections in our county would admit to mistakes was a good thing. How often do government officials do such a thing?
Still, the fact Pigeon Forge residents have to vote again on the same issue — four times in four years — is not a good thing. It is troubling. It means the pro-liquor side and the anti-liquor side have to gear up again to make their case to potential voters. It means each side has to raise more money to pay to get their message out. It means taxpayers have to finance another election. It means finding qualified and trained poll workers. Most disturbing of all, it calls into question the accuracy and integrity of our election process.
Everybody makes mistakes. Perfection is unattainable. That said, we citizens do have a right to expect our elections will be run as close to perfect as possible. It’s not as if we have a lot of them. When we do, we need assurance that they’ll be run right.
It will take time for people to get past the problems associated with the Pigeon Forge referendum. Fortunately for the Election Commission staff, they have a chance to rebuilding trust in just a few weeks, when they put on the next referendum.
A lot more is riding on it than whether liquor by the drink can be served in Pigeon Forge. Respect has to be earned. In the case of the Sevier County Election Commission, it has to be won back.