Politicians, start your engines

Blount County candidates reach first deadline in packed primary election

The week has brought snow and freezing temperatures, but things are heating up in Blount County. Soon everything will be coming up red, white and blue.

It’s election time.

The first deadline for candidates is noon today, Thursday, Feb. 18, with filing deadline for all county primary races. Those who have picked up petitions and collected the required 25 signatures must have those turned in with designations on what race they are running in by noon today. The candidates will be cleared as soon as their petitions are certified.

The filing deadline today is for the May 4 county primary. As of press time, there are 57 candidates who have filed petitions to run. All 21 Blount County Commission seats are open, and three commissioners have indicated they are not seeking re-election. There are also eight constitutional offices up for election, including Blount County mayor. Winners of the Republican, Democrat and Independent primaries on the county level go through to the General Election, which is Aug. 5.

Also in the May 4 primary election, Rockford voters will pick two new commissioners.

On Aug. 5, the State Primary will be held. Republicans, Democrats and Independents will vie for their parties’ nod for governor, U.S. House of Representatives, Tennessee House of Representatives and odd-numbered Tennessee Senate districts, which does not include Blount County, District 8.

Winners in the Aug. 5 State Primary will proceed to face each other in the Nov. 2 State General Election. Added to the ballot locally on Nov. 2 are three school board members and three city council members in the city of Maryville; two school board members and three city commissioners in Alcoa; three aldermen in Louisville; three commissioners in Friendsville and three commissioners in Townsend.

Republicans and Democrats

On the local level, the county primaries decided on May 4 feature some commission seats that are uncontested in both parties and others that have from two to three in party races to get to the County General election. In addition, several of the constitutional offices have contested primaries, including the Republican primary for county mayor and the Republican primary for Circuit Court Clerk.

Susan Mills, chair of the Blount County Republican Party, said the party has a lot of good candidates for the primary. “People need to remember they need people with experience and people who know how to take our county on the path it needs to be on,” she said. “We hope people will do their homework and pick people who can guide us in the direction we need to go.”

Mills said there are a number of candidates in the Republican primary she has not yet met but she said she hopes everyone campaigns in a respectful manner. “I hope the candidate will take the high road and not make it about personalities,” she said. “Make it about what’s good for the county.”

Mills said the county commission races interest her in particular. “I think we have as a whole a good commission, and there are seats I would like to see Republicans win,” she said.

Blount County Democratic Party chair Tony Webb said a candidates from the Democratic Party are great examples of people caring about what is going on in the community. “For far too long you had a group of people who said, ‘This is what you should believe,’ and ‘This is what you should say.’ Now we are getting candidates who are listening to the people,” he said. “We can’t go on doing what we’re doing now, especially with the budget. We have a huge deficit, and we need to look at ways to repair that.”

Webb, who is himself a candidate for Blount County Commission in the Democrat primary for District 10, Seat A, said it is important for candidates in the Democratic primary to speak their voice on issues. “We need to let the people know exactly what each of our candidates are proposing and how they would better county government,” he said. “As you head into the general election, you’re going to have disagreements with the sitting party, and we need to show the differences between the two and how we could actually change Blount County for the better.”

Managing the paperwork

Running the “back of the house” during all the election filing, petitioning and checking the paperwork is the job of Blount County administrator of elections Libby Breeding and her staff. For the next few days, they get to be detectives.

Breeding is charged with certifying each petition a candidate submits. “People come in and want to stand and wait on a petition to be certified. We’ve made it our top priority. We’re going to get them done as soon as possible,” she said.

Breeding said she and her staff look through the petitions to ensure that each individual who signed lives in the area where the candidate is supposed to serve and that their signature matches their voter registration paperwork.

Sometimes individuals will sign nicknames, making verification hard or impossible. “If I put Libby Breeding down on a petition, we don’t have that individual registered, because I’m registered under Elizabeth Breeding. We also look you up by address,” she said. “We try to go above and beyond. We have to check and see an address and pull the actual registration form and see that every signature matches.”

Breeding said some people registered to vote at 18 and now they are 50, meaning their signatures won’t match up exactly. “We do everything we can to verify signatures. We try to be detectives and figure out everyone’s signature,” she said. “People think you can get it done in 2 or 3 minutes, but it takes time to certify them correctly.”

The election administrator said she has enough funding to hire part-time people to work during the election. “Every election we have people who have worked in the past elections, and they come back and work on an hourly basis. In the November election we had seven working at the election commission and approximately 350 working at the precincts,” she said.

Breeding said that in last county primary in 2006, turnout was relatively low with only 14,199 voting. “If there is a particular race that draws a lot of interest, that tends to bring more people out,” she said. “If you have no competition in a primary, the turnout is low. The more people in the primary, the more interest there is in the race and the more people get out to vote.”

Breeding has held her post for three years, and this is her first county primary as administrator. She said folks need to remember how important their right to vote is. “I like to see competition. It doesn’t matter to us who runs, but I like to see competition. That makes more people interested in the election process. That’s my whole goal -- get everybody out to vote,” she said. “That is a right we have, and people need to get involved in their county. Many people think that the only time they need to vote is during the presidential election, but county officials decide so many things that happen to us personally. I hope we have a real good turn out.”

Voting with E-Slate

Breeding said the state’s mandated move to return to paper ballots will not happen until 2012. The move is being done in order to have a paper trail during the voting process. Breeding said the E-Slate digital voting machines the county has used have been accurate. “I’ve always said I felt our machines are very, very honest. We zero everything out and balance everything to ‘nth’ degree,” she said. “But the state is saying that with paper ballots, they can be put through a scanner, and it automatically counts everything. At the end you can actually open the hopper up and count the ballots and compare them to what machine total is.”

The last day to register to vote in the May 4 county primary is April 5. Early voting for the primary begins April 14 and ends April 29.

For the Aug. 5 state primary and county general election, the last day to register to vote is July 6. Early voting runs between July 16 and July 31.

In the Nov. 2 state General Election, the last day to register is to vote is Oct. 4. Early voting is from Oct. 13 to Oct. 28.

The two charts show all the candidates who have picked up and returned petitions to run for Blount County Commission and the Constitutional races. Candidates who have not returned their petitions as of press time are designated with an asterisk (*). In addition to those on the charts, three men have returned petitions to run for the Rockford City Commission -- Joseph Charles Birdwell, Steve Simon and Roy Lawson. Rockford voters will choose two for their city commission on May 4.

On the state level, the qualifying deadline is noon on April 1. To date, incumbent State Representative Bob Ramsey has picked up and returned his petition to run. Tommy Lambert Kerr has picked up a petition to run for state representative in the Republican primary but has not returned the petition to date. State Representative Joe McCord has not yet picked up a petition to run. The state senate seat held by Doug Overbey is not up for election this cycle.

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