Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

July 20, 2010

Panel denies Eldridge right to vote

Action comes despite taking GOP pledge

CROSSVILLE — The brouhaha over one person's right to vote in the primary they chose spewed over Tuesday morning when the spurned voter returned to the county election commission office and again was denied the right to vote in the Republican Primary despite taking an oath to support the party.

A panel of three Republican-appointed election judges voted to deny Mickey Eldridge, a long-time Democrat, the right to vote in the Republican Primary despite Eldridge taking an oath. Eldridge responded that the entire episode smacked of hypocrisy and blamed three people for being denied to vote for friends and acquaintances on the Republican ticket that she said she would vote for.

"Linda Thompson, State Rep. Eric Swafford's aunt, State Rep. Eric Swafford and Sharon York (Cumberland County Election Administrator) are the three responsible for denying me my right to vote," Eldridge repeated again Thursday, and even hinted that there was a conspiracy to deny her vote in the GOP election.

For two days in a row, Eldridge has claimed that as soon as she entered the election office Monday and requested a Republican Primary ballot to cast her early vote, York picked up the phone and called Thompson, who was across the street and wearing a State Rep. Eric Swafford shirt while campaigning for the incumbent.

An eyewitness told the Chronicle Monday that Thompson was observed receiving a phone call, ran to a vehicle parked near the Chamber of Commerce office, changed shirts and then ran to the election office where she formally challenged Eldridge's vote.

On Monday when told of Eldridge's claim, York stated that simply was not true and that it was Thompson who contacted her about the challenge.

When Crossville attorney Jimmy Smith, representing Eldridge, repeated the claim in front of Thompson during the hearing, Thompson did not challenge the validity of the claim.

Eldridge went on to state, "This entire affair is hypocrisy at its worst. Eric Swafford has in the past asked me to vote for him, has asked me to cross over and vote in the Republican Primary for him.

"That was OK. But now that there is a perception that I might be one of the ones not voting him, suddenly me voting in the Republican Primary is wrong."

Eldridge went on to state that Swafford was a Democrat and voted in Democratic Primaries prior to his decision to run for state representative on the Republican ticket, the presumption being that the Fairfield Glade GOP block vote is needed to win that seat.

Tuesday, Eldridge returned to the election office to cast her vote, accompanied by Crossville attorney Jimmy Smith. Again, she was pulled to the side and told her vote in the Republican Primary was being challenged.

Accompanied by the media and her attorney, Eldridge this time did enter York's office, at which time York read the challenge to Eldridge. The three-member judges panel, which consisted of Rebecca Abner, Gail Hubbard and James Snodderly, all election machine operators and appointed by the Republican Party, were also present.

At that time York administered an oath to tell the truth followed by a question on whether Eldridge was pledging her support to the Republican Party.

Eldridge read the following, "I, Mickey Eldridge, in order to exercise my constitutional right to vote in the current primary election, hereby declare my allegiance to the Republican Party within the meaning of TCA (Tennessee Code Annotated) 2-7-115(b)(2)."

A signed copy was then presented to York.

A copy of Eldridge's voting record was then sought and provided, with Eldridge verifying to its authenticity.

York then asked each election judge if they wished to ask any questions. Hubbard asked Eldridge if she was joining the Republican Party, to which Eldridge responded, "At this time..."

Abner questioned Eldridge's motive for voting in the Republican Primary and Smith answered, "She just wants to vote like every other person in Cumberland County."

He added that she is due a constitutional right of equal protection and that singling Eldridge out raises constitutional issues that could change the way primary voting is handled in Tennessee.

Of the three election judges, Hubbard seemed to have the most difficulty in dealing with the issue at hand and at one point, teared up as she issued a statement saying she respected everyone's right to vote.

After several moments, Snodderly finally broke the ice and announced he was voting no to allowing Eldridge to vote in the Republican Primary. Abner said no, questioning Eldridge's motives for doing so, and after much consternation, Hubbard made it unanimous.

Afterwards, Eldridge did vote in the County General Election and cast a paper ballot that was signed and sealed. The three election judges are to sign the sealed envelope and post their reasons for the rejection.

That ballot will not count unless the decision is appealed to Chancery Court at which time the Chancellor will open the ballot, hear evidence and decide whether the vote is a legal vote or not.

Observers say this is the first time a voter has ever been challenged in Cumberland County, and some claim the first time in the state, although verification of that is not possible.

When asked if she would appeal, both Eldridge and Smith said that decision had not been made. Eldridge was adamant, however, in repeating earlier statements. "I want my vote to count.

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