BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
In Tennessee, if someone writes in a name when casting his or her ballot, the local Election Office where the vote is cast will only count that name if there is a candidate with a corresponding name who has filed a write-in candidacy form.
This procedure came as news to environmentalist and former actress Park Overall, who was one of several candidates in the state Democratic Party Primary election for U.S. Senator.
Overall was defeated in the Primary Election in August by Mark Clayton, who went on to be defeated by Republican incumbent Sen. Bob Corker in the General Election on Nov. 6.
After Clayton won the primary in August, however, he was almost immediately disavowed by the Tennessee Democratic Party for having volunteered with Falls Church, Va.-based Public Advocate of the United States, which describes itself as a conservative advocacy group for issues such as traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization, has termed the organization a "hate group" because of its positions on issues related to homosexuality.
After disavowing Clayton, the official party nominee based on the primary, Democratic Party leaders urged Democrats across the state to write in their candidate preference for U.S. Senator rather than voting for Clayton.
Following the Nov. 6 general election, Overall said she received numerous communications from her primary supporters saying that they wrote her name in on the ballot.
Curious, she contacted Secretary of State Tre Hargett by email and requested to know the number of people who wrote in her name when they cast their ballots that Tuesday.
Hargett responded, explaining that the county-based election offices and the State Elections Office would not be able to tally such votes since Overall had not filed a write-in candidacy.
The shock and surprise of that response was evident as Overall replied back, asking that Hargett provide the information on the basis that "no one has the right to suppress the outcome of any election."
This polite back-and-forth continued for a few emails, with the most recent that has been made available to The Greeneville Sun having come from Hargett's office, in which he directs Overall to TCA 2-7-133 (i):
"Any person attempting to be elected by write-in ballots shall complete a notice requesting such person's ballots be counted in each county of the district no later than twelve o'clock (12:00) noon, prevailing time, fifty (50) days before the general election.
"Such person shall only have votes counted in counties where such notice was completed and timely filed. The notice shall be on a form prescribed by the coordinator of elections and shall not require signatures of any person other than the write-in candidate requesting ballots be counted.
"The coordinator of elections shall distribute such form to the county election commissions. Upon timely receiving the notice required by this subsection (i), the county election commission shall promptly inform the state coordinator of elections, the registry of election finance, as well as all other candidates participating in the affected election.
"A write-in candidate may withdraw the notice by filing a letter of withdrawal in the same manner as the original notice was filed no later than the fifth day before the election."
"I've had several emotional supporters who gave a little money who simply want to know how we did," Overall said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "I'm very upset."
Considering the short period in which she campaigned before the primaries, Overall even questioned if she would have known to give the Election Office 50 days advance notice.
She did say that she could understand some of the likely reasonings for the law: that it would cut down on their work, and that it would be difficult to count write-ins for the correct person for common names such as "Tom Smith" if they had not filed their candidacy.
However, her objections remain.
"The vote should always be exposed and open," she said.
"I don't know why they don't want to tell me. It would just be interesting to see."
While Overall said she will probably not pursue the matter, she did indcate that she would like to have a legal opinion on the matter.
"The vote should be open, that's all," she said. "If Big Bird got a vote, then we should know.
"That's how I feel."