By Jonathan Pleasant
Friday marked the official beginning of the campaign season in Johnson County, though it is still several months until the August 7th general election. Several interested candidates were already waiting to pick up their nominating positions when the election office opened at 8:00 a.m. with a steady stream coming in all that morning despite the bitter cold and poor weather. Election Administrator Mike Long was more than ready to answer any questions that came up concerning the candidacy process or the election in general.
Most county offices will be up for grabs this year so it was no surprise when several currently serving officials showed up alongside other interested individuals. With the exception of the office of Sheriff and County Road Superintendent which both have extra requirements, qualifications for most positions follow a basic set of guidelines set down in Tennessee Code Annotated 8-18-101. Basically the only exclusions involve those who have been convicted of bribery, larceny, defaulting the treasury, or military personnel in any regular service. Additionally candidates must be at least 18 and a resident of the state and county.
Each candidate must also file a successful nominating petition to be included on the ballot. At least 25 certified signatures are required, but the election office recommends 50 to ensure enough viable signatures are acquired. Petition signees must also print their name and include their correct address, which should match their registration information. Only correctly filled out signatures from already registered voters will be counted by the election office, and Long was very keen to point out that each individual must sign for themselves and cannot sign for someone else. For verification purposes the election office does check each individual signature to make sure it matches the digital signature on file.
Candidates for district offices such as county commissioner can only count signatures from their respective district, while at large offices such as county clerk or county mayor can utilize signatures from all over the county. While Friday was the first day to pick up the petitions, potential candidates have until 12:00 noon on April 3rd to get them to the Election Office. Beyond that deadline, the only way of being elected in August would be to win by write in, which also has its own deadline of June 18th. Candidates for Sherriff and Road Superintendent must also meet state Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) filing requirements by March 20th.
Aside from the petitions themselves, Long also gave potential candidates a packet of additional information including campaign finance disclosure statements, contribution limits, information on the federal Hatch Act, and a list of key dates. Information on who has picked up paperwork for a particular position is public record, and interested individuals can contact the Election Office for more information. As of 3:45 pm on Friday, January 3, 2014, the following had picked up their papers: Larry Potter for position of county mayor, William K. Adams for commissioner, District one, Lester Dunn for commissioner, District two, Billy R. Roark for commissioner, District three, William Bliss Hawkins for General Sessions and Juvenile judge, Carolyn W. Hawkins for Circuit Court Clerk, William Michael Reece for Sheriff, Tammie C. Fenner for County Clerk, Freida A. Dugger for Register of Deeds, Jonathan D. Pleasant for Register of Deeds, Rick L. Curt for Road Superintendent, Normal E. Miller for Constable, District 2 and Benjamin Neil Price for Constable, District 2.
Friday not only marked the first day of qualifying petitions, but also was the official launch of the Election Offices new website, www.jctnvote.com. A goal of the office for several months now, the website should be instrumental in providing a wealth of information covering everything from past elections back to 2006 as well as results from the most recent election. Currently there are 10,982 registered voters in the county, but the website also has direct links to the states websites, including one which will allow the user to print off a mail in registration if they havent already.
District maps, census data, listings for current officials, qualifications for county offices, and campaign polling places are all also provided on the site and Long encourages everyone to visit. Users can also check on their personal information to make sure those items such as their address is current and correct. Hopefully the new site will help smooth the whole election process and provide 24/7 access to valuable information not only for candidates but the general public as well.
With several vacancies already certain, this years election will assuredly see changes in the face of county government. Even though it is still very early the competition across the board is likely to be very heated, making a high turnout more important than ever. While there are always concerns about how much an individual voter actually impacts the final outcome, there is no doubt that in the county general elections every vote does indeed have the potential to sway the final count. With that in mind and regardless of whom they actually vote for, hopefully the final numbers in August will be high.
By Jonathan Pleasant