Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

July 23, 2010

Election judge refuses to sign challenge

Eldridge seeks misconduct investigation

CROSSVILLE — The Cumberland County woman whose attempt to vote in the Republican Primary this week was denied has visited the District Attorney General's Office to file a complaint of official misconduct in connection with the incident.

Meanwhile, one of the three election judges who voted no during the challenge hearing has had a change of heart and has refused to sign the envelope containing the challenge as required by state law.

Mickey Eldridge on Monday, accompanied by her husband, John, went to the election office to vote and asked for a Republican Primary ballot. She was given one but then her right to vote in the Republican Primary was challenged by Linda Thompson, a poll watcher for Eric Swafford.

While her husband was allowed to vote, Eldridge left without casting a ballot and returned Tuesday with attorney Jimmy Smith. She was again told her vote in the primary was being challenged and after a short hearing, three judges voted to deny her a Republican Primary ballot.

However, one of those judges has since had a change of heart and after much reflection, decided not to proceed with upholding the challenge.

"I am not going to tell you which judge declined to sign the envelope, but one of the judges did decline, so what happened is, that ballot did go into the ballot box to be counted with all the other ballots to be counted on election day," Elections Administrator Sharon York said.

Gail Hubbard is the judge who decided to not sign the ballot, making the challenge moot. She issued the following statement:

"I did not sign the challenge. I was under distress and had no counsel. Anyone that wants to vote should vote. I didn't know this was going to happen. I want my voice to be heard.

"I support the Constitution. I believe we all have the right to vote. I am a Republican. I am a conservative. I believe if you are a tax-paying American and believe like I do, and proud of our freedoms, you ought to have a right to vote."

Hubbard said earlier that she had signed on to be a machine operator during the election and had no prior knowledge that she would be expected to sit as a judge in a voter challenge hearing.

The day of the hearing, Hubbard expressed concern, asked for an attorney and became emotional as she was pressed for a decision on whether to allow Eldridge to vote in the Republican Primary or not.

After sleeping on it overnight, Hubbard decided she would not sign the ballot envelope, thus killing the challenge.

Eldridge confirmed that she visited the District Attorney General's Office on Wednesday to file a formal official misconduct complaint with the prosecutor.

It is not clear who the complaint targets but earlier this week Eldridge blamed three people on her being denied a vote in the Republican Primary.

When contacted Thursday morning, District Attorney Randall York said, "I cannot confirm, or deny, whether someone has filed a complaint with my office."

In the past, policy of the state prosecutor's office has been that once a complaint is received through proper channels, a determination is made as to whether a conflict of interest exists between parties involved in the complaint and the prosecutor.

If one exists, then an Attorney General pro tem from another district is appointed to take over the case and a request is sent out for an investigation by the appropriate law enforcement agency. In most cases, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is asked to look into the complaint.

If the TBI agents assigned to the district find themselves with a conflict, then agents from outside the district are asked to come in and conduct the investigation. Once that investigation is completed, the findings are turned over to the Attorney General pro tem to determine if evidence should be reviewed by a grand jury.

The charges of misconduct stem from events leading up to the challenge of Eldridge's vote as well as allegations of improprieties during and after.

"I did nothing wrong. It is a process and I completed the process," said York. "There was no misconduct on my part. All I have tried to do is complete the process, and this is part of that process as well. If they have done that, so be it. We will face it and I will look forward to the District Attorney's Office or anyone else coming in here and will cooperate fully."


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