Editorial: Flaws in voting process raise concerns about Election Commission
Regardless of the outcome of any contest of the liquor referendum, the vote on Nov. 6 shows some serious flaws in the Sevier County Election Commission and how it decides which ballot a voter receives. It appears hundreds of people voted in the referendum who shouldn’t have, and probably a number who didn’t get to vote on the liquor issue who should have been able to vote.
The problem seems to be that the Election Commission doesn’t have adequate information, or simply doesn’t pay enough attention to detail, in determining which addresses are within the municipal limits of a city and which are not. Consequently, some who showed up to vote at the Pigeon Forge precinct were given ballots that included the referendum, even though they don’t live in the Pigeon Forge city limits. That taints the final totals. Whether it rises to the level of tossing out the results and voting over remains to be seen.
However, no matter how that is resolved, the Election Commission owes it to this county to get things right. Its responsibilities include maintaining the voter rolls and conducting elections.
It failed miserably in that task on Nov. 6. Some in the office blame it all on the redistricting caused by the Census. However, the Census changed legislative lines, not city limit lines. If you lived in the corporate limits of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg before the redistricting, you weren’t suddenly removed from the city because legislative districts changed. That’s like blaming NBC because your cable went out.
Getting it right shouldn’t be so hard to do. Yet for some reason, the Election Commission mishandled maybe hundreds of ballots and voters on Nov. 6 for no other reason than its address verification system didn’t work. Those handling the polls are supposed to know which ballot goes to a voter based on address. Not everyone who visits a precinct on Election Day necessarily gets the same ballot. The Pigeon Forge voting place, for example, is used by residents of Sevierville and even residents of the county because of legislative redistricting.
So what’s the problem at the Election Commission? One possible cause may be a lack of leadership. Elections Administrator Ronee Flynn reportedly has been ill for many months and not always in the office. Her duties as head of the department often fall to deputy administrator Ed Kuncitis, who used to have Flynn’s job. There is a lot to do in handling elections, and it may be that Flynn’s absences overworked Kuncitis and the rest of the staff.
Whatever the problem, this needs to be fixed quickly. People need to know that elections in Sevier County are conducted properly and flawlessly. They are not now. There do not need to be this many questions and this much controversy surrounding a vote. The five-member Election Commission and Ronee Flynn need to get this corrected immediately. The integrity of future votes is at stake.