Election office lawsuits piling up, including one in Clay County

 

By MARY JO DENTON

UPPER CUMBERLAND-The lawsuits against county election commissions and the election administrators they appointed after Republicans gained majority membership continue to pile up in this region.

Ousted administrators have filed lawsuits against election commissions and the new administrators in the following counties: Cumberland, Overton, Clay, and DeKalb.

The election administrators who lost their jobs in the political makeover are asking the courts to declare the actions of the new election commissions unconstitutional and illegal and to order that they be reinstated to their jobs with back pay.

The lawsuits allege that they lost their jobs due to their political affiliation and that the newly appointed Republican election commissioners in each county conspired before taking office to oust the administrators due to their political views.

All of the changes occurred after the Republican party gained a majority in the state legislature. One of the consequences of that new majority was that county election commissions across the state would be changed to reflect that Republican majority.

As the new election commissioners took their positions, many voted to oust longtime Democrat administrators

The lawsuits now being filed allege that these actions were committed in violation of the state constitution and state laws, including the Open Meetings Act.

The lawsuit in Cumberland County was filed in May by Suzanne Smith, who had been election administrator there since 1973 and who lost her job to Sharon York. Smith is represented by Cookeville attorney Jon Jones and Crossville attorney Landon Colvard Jr.

A similar lawsuit has now been filed in Overton County by ousted election administrator Tommy Simcox, who had held the position since 2007 and who was replaced by Craig Story. Simcox is represented by Celina attorney Jimmy White.

A similar lawsuit has also been filed in Clay County by ousted election administrator Frances Donaldson, who was replaced by Wanda Daniels. Donaldson is represented by attorney Jon Jones.

And a lawsuit has been filed in DeKalb County by ousted administrator Lisa Peterson, who had held the job since 1998 and lost it in April 2009 to Dennis Stanley. Peterson is represented by the Nashville law firm of Blackburn & McCune.

All of the suits cite the Tennessee Constitution, which forbids making any “political or religious test, other than an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and this State” a required qualification to hold any office or public trust.

All the suits also allege that the Republicans conspired in private before being appointed to their election commission seats to remove the incumbent administrators and replace them with their own choices, thus violating the state’s Open Meetings law.

The same political turnover occurred in the Putnam County Election Commission, and a new administrator, Debbie Steidl, was appointed to replace longtime administrator Nancy Boman. But no lawsuit has been filed here.

Reprinted with permission from the Cookeville Herald-Citizen