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Election 2012

On “the trail” again

I’m on the campaign trail again, running for re-election to Oak Ridge City Council. The city election is on the November 6 ballot, but early voting starts October 17, and people are starting to get seriously interested in the city election.The League of Women Voters is conducting a candidates forum on October 2 and Democracy for East Tennessee will hold another forum on October 9.

Much has changed in the 5+ years since I was elected…

Happily, I’ve met a number of people who are new to town in the last 5 years. I’m also very aware of the loss of many good people from our community and my personal life.

The economy tanked in 2008. Oak Ridge didn’t fare nearly as badly as many areas, and the community benefited from a Recovery Act projects at the local DOE facilities as well as in the community. City government has put off  addressing some deferred needs in order to avoid over-burdening our taxpayers.

A charter change in 2010 resulted in my term of office being extended by 17 months (it was originally supposed to end in June 2011).

City Council hired a new city manager. Several other key city personnel have retired or moved on, and have been replaced.

The Oak Ridge City Center (former Oak Ridge Mall) is looking even less viable now than it did 5 years ago, but the city is seeing new commercial vitality at Jackson Square and the Woodland Town Center development, and there’s a new Kroger Marketplace development on the horizon.

The city has been challenged by an EPA administrative order that requires big expenditures on our wastewater system.

The Knoxville metropolitan region, of which Oak Ridge is a significant element, is working together more than it did before.

… I could go on and on. I also could list some things that haven’t changed nearly as much as I would have wanted. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to serve my city as part of its elected citizen leadership for these 5 years, and I’m ready and willing to continue to address the city’s needs and challenges for another 4 years, if the voters are willing.


Voting day rules

Although a lot of folks took advantage of early voting, tomorrow is the official election day, and there will be lots of campaign activity outside precinct polling places around town. Recalling past elections when there has been confusion and misinformation about the rules, thinking about the questions that will arise tomorrow, and looking ahead to my candidacy for re-election in November, I reviewed the Tennessee state law (part of Title 2, Elections) on behavior at polling places.

Section 2-7-103 (“Persons allowed in polling place”) states that “No person may be admitted to a polling place [during voting] except election officials, voters, persons properly assisting voters, the press, poll watchers appointed under [state law] and others bearing written authorization from the county election commission.” Section 2-1-104(a)(17) defines “Polling place” to mean “the room or rooms where voters apply to vote and mark and cast their ballots”. That says to me that it is OK for people other than voters to be in the building where voting is occurring, as long as they stay away from the rooms where folks are voting.

There are special rules for the police: “No police or other law enforcement officer may come nearer to the entrance to a polling place than ten feet (10′) or enter the polling place except at the request of the officer of elections or the county election commission or to make an arrest or to vote.” I guess that means that police can’t be used to intimidate voters — a good rule to have, but hopefully not something that would arise in Oak Ridge.

Those of us who have taken our kids into the voting booth with us should be relieved to learn that this is legal. The law says “No person may go into a voting machine or a voting booth while it is occupied by a voter except as expressly authorized by this title,” but it also says “a child under seventeen (17) years of age may accompany the child’s parent or legal guardian into the polling place” and “such child may also enter the voting machine or voting booth with such parent or guardian to observe the voting process.”

Section 2-7-103 also says that “candidates may be present [in a polling place] after the polls close.”

Section 2-7-111 (“Posting of sample ballots and instructions — Arrangement of polling place — Restrictions”) deals with electioneering outside the polling place. The relevant excerpts say:

(a) The officer of elections … shall measure off one hundred feet (100′) from the entrances to the building in which the election is to be held and place boundary signs at that distance.

(b) (1) Within the appropriate boundary as established in subsection (a), and the building in which the polling place is located, the display of campaign posters, signs or other campaign materials, distribution of campaign materials, and solicitation of votes for or against any person, political party, or position on a question are prohibited. No campaign posters, signs or other campaign literature may be displayed on or in any building in which a polling place is located.

(2) Solicitation or collection for any cause is prohibited. This does not include the normal activities that may occur at such polling place such as a church, school, grocery, etc.

(3) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit any person from wearing a button, cap, hat, pin, shirt, or other article of clothing outside the established boundary but on the property where the polling place is located.

Section 2-7-104 (“Poll watchers”) allows “each political party,” “any organization of citizens interested in a question on the ballot or interested in preserving the purity of elections and in guarding against abuse of the elective franchise,” primary candidates, and “independent candidates in general elections” to appoint poll watchers. Poll watchers must be at least 17 years old, they must be identified to the election day at least 2 days in advance. Parties and citizens organizations can have two poll watchers at a polling place at the same time, but candidates are limited to having only one poll watcher on duty in a polling place at any time.

Section 2-7-104(e) provides for poll watchers to observe the counting of absentee ballots, as long as they do not leave the room during the actual counting or have electronic communications devices in the room with them. (No spies, please!)

Section 2-7-130 (“Locking of machine — Canvass and proclamation of votes on voting machines”) states: “After the polls have closed … the judges shall then lock and seal the voting machines against voting. The judges shall sign a certificate on the tally sheets…. The judges shall then open the counter compartment in the presence of the watchers and all other persons who are present, giving full view of all the counter numbers. One (1) of the judges, under the scrutiny of a judge of a different political party, in the order of the offices as their titles are arranged on the machine, shall read aloud in distinct tones the designating number and letter, if any, on each counter for each candidate’s name and the result as shown by the counter numbers. The judge shall in the same manner announce the vote on each question.”

After an election, candidates can get detailed results, according to Section 2-8-116 “Right of candidate to receive certified copies of poll lists and tally sheets”: “Each candidate has the right to have delivered to the candidate by the state election commission or the county election commission certified copies of all poll lists and tally sheets used in the counties in which the candidate ran, upon demand and payment of the regular legal fees.”

Most that is relevant to candidates and their supporters, but issues arise for voters, too. Voters need to remember photo ID, due to Tennessee’s new laws, and Oak Ridge Today reports that people who vote at Jefferson Middle School will vote tomorrow in the front lobby instead of the gym, as the gym floor is being refinished.


How to vote on the “retention of judges”?

I’ve been asked for advice on whether or not to retain the two Tennessee appellate court judges listed on the August election ballot. I don’t know anything good, bad, or indifferent about either of them, but I’m voting FOR keeping them in office because I believe the state’s high courts should be independent of politics. Their decisions should based on their interpretation of the law, not on what’s popular.

Some years ago, after Justice Penny White got removed from the Tennessee Supreme Court, I concluded that those of us who support an independent judiciary need to vote FOR retention of judges unless we know something that causes us to want to remove a particular judge. Many voters skip over the judge retention items on the ballot, which makes it easier for narrow political interests to target specific judges (like Penny White) for removal for “not making the right decisions”. Thus, a FOR vote is a vote for a judicial system that is not controlled by politics.


‘Tis the season for political signs

People have been asking me (and sometimes complaining) about the campaign yard signs that started popping up around town earlier this month. This is a perennial issue — see the June 2010 post “Signs Too Early and Signs Too Flashy” on this blog.

In no particular order, here are some answers to this year’s questions:

  • Yes, there are restrictions on these signs in the city of Oak Ridge. City ordinances (specifically, the “Sign Ordinance” section of the zoning code) tell where and when campaign signs can be displayed.
  • Yard signs can’t go up until 30 days before early voting begins in the relevant election. Since early voting for the August 2012 election begins on July 13, signs began to appear legally on June 13.
  • One of the races on the August ballot is a special election to fill the remainder of an unexpired term on the Oak Ridge City Council. This is the seat to which Tom Hayes was elected in 2007. After he resigned last year, Chuck Hope was appointed to serve until a special election to be held on the next regular election date. That turned out to be August 2012. The person who is elected will serve for just 3 months, as this seat will be on the ballot again in November when the regular City Council election is scheduled. Three Council seats (including the one that I hold) will be on the ballot then. I will run for re-election.
  • The two candidates in the special election for City Council are Chuck Hope and Trina Baughn. Both of them are also expected to be candidates in November. (In effect, they will be running for office from now until November.)
  • You shouldn’t be seeing yard signs for me or other November candidates for City Council yet. That’s because we won’t begin campaigning seriously until after the August election. (The situation of two elections 3 months apart is confusing enough as it is – it would only add to the confusion if we started campaigning before the special election!) We can’t legally put up yard signs until the date in mid-September (30 days before early voting begins for November).
  • A city charter referendum in November 2010 changed City Council elections from June of odd-numbered years to November of even-numbered years. City Council had nothing to do with initiating this. (In fact, I think most Council members preferred the old arrangement.) The proposal to change the election date came from an elected charter commission and it was approved by an overwhelming majority of voters. To make the transition to the new election schedule, the current terms of office for all elected city officials were extended by almost 1-1/2 years.
  • It’s been suggested to me that certain local candidates have signs that are too large, but my experience is that local candidates pay attention to the rules for the size of signs, so the signs they buy are in compliance.
  • Candidates’ eager supporters – for candidates at the national, state, and local level — are a different story. They often are unaware of the rules, so in every election some candidate signs pop up too early or in prohibited locations such as traffic islands or less than 15 feet from the pavement of an arterial street.
  • Not covered in the city ordinance, but something residents should know: Candidate signs shouldn’t be placed on private property without permission. Sometimes, well-intentioned people stick signs for their favorite candidates in the ground without worrying about property owner permission – and, remarkably, I’ve learned that some property owners leave those signs in place because they think they are supposed to accept them. (No wonder people gripe about campaign signs!) Other times, pranksters pull up signs and place them in different yards. If a candidate sign appears in front of your home or business, but you don’t support that candidate or you don’t want to have a sign on your premises, take the sign down. (Particularly if it’s a sign for a local candidate, it would be neighborly to contact the candidate or campaign and let them retrieve the sign.)