Poll workers, early voting dates assigned

Commission splits on use of new machines
Jan. 29, 2013 @ 12:03 PM

The Sevier County Election Commission picked new polling place workers for the revote of the Pigeon Forge liquor by the drink referendum, but after discussion and even a tie vote it remains to be seen whether they will use different voting machines.

The commission was without its chairman again, as J.B. Matthews has been out of town due to an illness in his family. The remaining four members voted unanimously to approve a new group of poll workers staff described as the “best of the best,” but split 2-2 on whether to try new machines.

They are considering the new measures after acknowledging errors by the polling workers in the Nov. 6 election led to the casting of 289 illegal votes. Election officials have said poll workers gave the municipal ballot to people who live outside Pigeon Forge and weren’t eligible to vote in the municipal election, but who came to that polling place to vote in the statewide and national general election on the same day. Chancellor Telford Forgety tossed the results of that election and ordered the new one.

The commission split over whether to take Unisyn Voting Solutions up on an offer to bring in new scan voting machines for a free trial run during the new election.

Commissioner Michael Fitzgibbons, who has championed the measure, reiterated the case he made a little more than a week ago: It wills save money, and provide a paper trail for a recount.

“We should be pulling out all the stops to make things right moving forward, to save the taxpayers money,” he said. “There will be a paper trail also if this comes to a head again.”

Commissioner Darrell Whitchurch said he believes these are the machines the state will start recommending, and noted Unisyn would train poll workers on the machines.

However, Commissioner John Huff said he didn’t believe they should use new technology the poll workers hadn’t seen before in the revote of a contested election. “They’re familiar with the old machines,” he said.

Vice chair Joe Newman said he couldn’t vote in favor of it because state officials had said they would not recommend using the new machines for the revote.

That led to a split vote, meaning Fitzgibbons’ motion to use the machines was defeated, but even after that they called the state because Fitzgibbons said he’s spoken to state officials who recommended using them in that election.

Election Coordinator Mark Goins stressed he was offering a personal opinion and the decision rests with the local commission, but said he personally would not use new machines in this election because it’s already under such intense scrutiny.

"I wouldn’t use them personally.... Your voters are used to the machines you have been using,” he said.

The state has certified the new machines, but they haven’t been used in an election yet, he said.

Newman indicated the commission could hold another meeting to consider the machines further once Matthews returns.

There was little dispute over the plan to use new poll workers.

Some workers from the last election testified during depositions that they hadn’t been to training, and some said they were told to let everyone who came to the precinct vote on the municipal ballot.

Because it was those errors that led to the new vote, the commission agreed to select a new set of poll workers who didn’t work there during that election and who live outside Pigeon Forge.

They approved a list of 14 experienced poll workers, who one staff member said were the best each precinct had to offer. They need at least 10 to staff the polls

Fitzgibbons noted the list of potential workers was not an even split of Democrats and Republicans, but stopped short of asking for a new list after Whitchurch pointed out the referendum was a nonpartisan election.

Early voting will be held at the Sevier County Election Commission office on Dolly Parton parkway from Feb. 22 to March 9, with hours running from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. until noon Saturday. The election is set for March 14.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com