Johnson City Press Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Election 2014

UPDATE: Foster in, Ferguson out in 6th Commission District

May 7th, 2014 11:01 am by Gary B. Gray

UPDATE: Foster in, Ferguson out in 6th Commission District

One forgotten computer keystroke left the order and vote tallies of Washington County’s 6th Commission District candidates scrambled until about 1 a.m. Wednesday, when a correction showed Republican newcomer Tom Foster had topped the field and incumbent Mark Ferguson had not made the cut.

Ferguson and fellow incumbent Gerald Sparks are out. Newcomers Foster and Tom Krieger, as well as incumbent Joe Grandy, advanced to the Aug. 7 county general election, where they will face independent James Brooks for the three available seats.

While the tabs, or paper printouts, posted on the walls indicated Foster’s success, the Washington County Election Commission website showed Ferguson besting the field.

Foster was at the Election Commission on Wednesday morning politely asking for an explanation.

“The names are supposed to be in alphabetical order, and they were on the tabs,” said Administrator of Elections Maybell Stewart. “We send our candidate names to MicroVote (an Indianapolis-based company). When I was informed they were not in order online, I saw that the total election-day votes were going to the wrong candidates.

“I contacted the MicroVote employee, who is physically here each year, that there was a problem. The names apparently were put in the wrong order when downloaded. They were corrected so that the votes would be credited to the proper candidates, but he forgot to save the changes. He didn’t click the ‘save’ button, so Mr. Foster got Mr. Ferguson’s votes and vice versa.”

Stewart said the error was not the fault of the Election Commission or its staff. She also said the vendor soon will be issuing a public apology and explanation.

“I’m sleep-deprived right now,” Foster told the Johnson City Press prior to Stewart’s explanation and statement that he had won the election. “I was getting the numbers off what was posted at the General Store (Jonesborough). Clearly, I was in the lead and Tom and Joe were right there with me. Everybody was saying, ‘this can’t be right.’ ”

No other district was affected.

Foster led all candidates with 1,606 total votes. Krieger was second with 1,521 votes, followed closely by Grandy, who had 1,510 votes. The three: “Two Toms and a Joe,” as the large campaign signs read, each garnered around 26 percent of the total vote. Meanwhile, Ferguson collected 703 votes, or 11.9 percent. Sparks received 552 votes, or about 9 percent.

Ferguson did not return telephone messages Wednesday.

His exit comes in an election in which voters also chose not to re-elect a number of candidates who traditionally vote in a bloc and more times than not are in opposition to proposals put forth by County Mayor Dan Eldridge — who beat challenger Mike Rutherford for that seat easily Tuesday.

Also on their way out are Roger Nave, 7th District; Alpha Bridger, 3rd; Doyle Cloyd, 1st; and Sparks.

The Election Commission still must certify results from Tuesday’s Republican primary for it to be official.

When the website showed all precincts had reported late Tuesday, Ferguson was at the top of the heap. This appeared to be a surprise in light of concerted efforts by Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe and the political action committee Washington County Citizens for Better Government, which singled out Ferguson as being “Embarrassing” in a flyer distributed throughout the county.

Ferguson was not amused by the tactic and called the flyer and Wolfe’s statements “a personal, slanderous attack.” He also said he detested dirty politics and mudslinging and questioned Wolfe’s motives for being involved.

“There’s an agenda among some people in Washington County,” Ferguson said late Tuesday. “I attribute my win to just being honest. It’s a sad day when a mayor of a town — Kelly Wolfe — is deceitful.”

Wolfe, the PAC’s largest contributor, has not pulled any punches during the campaign, saying there has been an unsatisfying level of animosity coming from a group of commissioners, of which Ferguson was a part.

When the smoke cleared early Wednesday morning, Wolfe bristled at comments made by Ferguson at the time he thought he had won.

“I think the outcome of all the commission races came down to the fact that you had some high-quality candidates,” Wolfe said. “It’s not merely enough to point out someone’s deficiencies, you have to have a viable alternative. I watched the acrimony over the last four years, and I look forward to a County Commission willing to work with Mayor Eldridge.”

Krieger, a retired Angus cattle rancher and East Tennessee State University Roan Scholars Leadership Program chairman and ETSU Foundation vice chairman, is seeking his first public office.

Grandy, who has served as the Washington County Economic Development Council Executive Board vice chairman since its inception, is seeking his second term.

Ferguson ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the County Commission in 2002, when he was defeated by nine votes. He was appointed in 2005 to fill out the remainder of Joe Wilson’s term. He was then elected to full terms in 2006 and 2010.

Follow Gary B. Gray on Twitter at @ggrayjcpress. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garybgrayjcp.

Earlier reported:

One forgotten computer keystroke left the order and vote tallies of Washington County’s District 6 commission candidates scrambled until about 1 a.m. Wednesday when a correction showed Republican newcomer Tom Foster had topped the field and incumbent Mark Ferguson had not made the cut.

Ferguson and fellow incumbent Gearld Sparks are out. Foster, newcomer Tom Krieger and incumbent Joe Grandy advance to the Aug. 7 county general election.

While the tabs, or paper printouts, posted on walls indicated Foster’s success, the Washington County Election Commission website showed Ferguson besting the field.

Foster was at the Election Commission Wednesday morning asking politely for an explanation.

“The names are supposed to be in alphabetical order, and they were on the (paper) tabs,” said Administrator of Elections, Maybell Stewart. “We send our candidate names to Microvote (an Indianapolis-based company). When I was informed they were not in order online, I saw that the total election-day votes were going to the wrong candidates. 

"I contacted the Microvote employee, who is physically here each year, that there was a problem. The names apparently were put in the wrong order when downloaded. They were corrected so that the votes would be credited to the proper candidates, but he forgot to save the changes, so Mr. Foster got Mr. Ferguson’s votes and vice versa.”

Stewart said the error was not the fault of the Election Commission or its staff.

Foster led all candidates with 1,606 total votes. Krieger was second with 1,521 votes, followed closely by Grandy who had 1,510 votes. The three — “Two Toms and a Joe,” as many campaign signs read — each garnered around 26 percent of the total vote. Meanwhile, Ferguson collected 703 votes, or 11.9 percent. Sparks received 552 votes, or about 9 percent.

The Election Commission still must certify results from Tuesday’s Republican primary for result to be official.

Like Gary B. Gray on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Gary-B-Gray. Follow him on Twitter @ggrayjcpress.

Keep checking JohnsonCityPress.com for more details of this developing story.

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