Will 13-vote margin hold? May 6 primary results to be certified today

Gary B. Gray • May 22, 2014 at 7:36 AM

The May 6 Republican primary yielded a Washington County sheriff’s race decided by 10 fingers and three toes and a controversial mistake that turned election night upside down for contestants vying for three 6th District County Commission seats.

However, the county’s Election Commission has double-checked the final tallies, and today that body will gather to certify those results.

Jonesborough Operations Manager Craig Ford, who lost the sheriff’s seat to incumbent Ed Graybeal by 13 votes, has said he is considering asking for a recount. But calls to Ford have not been returned, and his intent remains unknown.

Meanwhile, a simple computer miscue on election night by a MicroVote technician resulted in confusion and frustration when the names of the 6th District candidates were not placed in alphabetical order. The mistake set challenger Tom Foster’s numbers next to incumbent Mark Ferguson.

This appeared to give Ferguson the win. But the corrected tally had Foster on top. Ferguson blasted Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe for his participation in a campaign to oust the commissioner. But that’s when Ferguson assumed he had won. He has not been quite as vocal after the mistake was corrected.

Foster, who knew something was wrong when he compared posted tally sheets to online results, showed up the next morning at the Election Commission office, where Administrator of Elections Maybell Stewart explained the situation and told Foster he was the victor.

Stewart explained on May 7 that the technician’s failure to save the corrected lineup of candidate names caused the confusion. But various calls and emails to the Johnson City Press led to a more specific request as to what happened on election night, specifically at the Jonesborough Visitors Center, where voters reported only three paper tallies being posted instead of four. The final tally would have come from the fourth voting machine.

“A lady voted at the Jonesborough Visitors Center,” Stewart said this week. “She got a ‘Thank You’ message on the screen but didn’t think her vote had registered. A machine operator at that polling place thought there may have been a problem with that machine, so he put a seal on it.

“We brought the machine back to the Election Commission about the same time the polls were closing. A machine technician employed by the Election Commission brought it. Bill Whitehead, a MicroVote technician, checked the machine, and he found everything to be in order.”

The question posed by the Press was, were the four separate tallies properly calculated?

“Everything added up,” Stewart said. “When Mr. Whitehead checked the machine, and then the tape (sheet), everything was in order. When the final counts for all races were tallied, I was confident they were correct.”

She said she understood why some people would question why there were only three tally sheets posted at the site. However, she reiterated that all votes are in order.

Typically, the process of certifying election results begins as soon as the polls are closed. That process for the May 6 Washington County Republican primary ends today, barring any unforeseen issues.

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

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