Hargett praises county for securing voting machines in time for election

Published 5:06 pm Friday, February 2, 2024

By Buzz Trexler
Star Correspondent
State and local officials gathered Friday to officially open the newly constructed Carter County Election Commission Annex as Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett manned the scissors and cut the ribbon in front of about 40 people who gathered to mark the event.

“Thank you for the investment in secure elections this county has made, this community has made, along with the grant that the state gave, to make sure we had appropriate physical secure space to locate those new election machines,” Hargett said in remarks following the ribbon cutting.

A 2022 law mandated that voting machines used by a county election commission produce a voter-verifiable paper audit trail and new machines with that capability were lined up in the annex and one was available for demonstration.

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Carter County Mayor Patty Woodby thanked the Carter County Commission for providing $40,000 to help construct the building, saying the state provided $25,000. “We’ve enjoyed this little project,” she said. “It’s been fun and we’re proud to do it for Carter County to preserve the integrity (of elections) and protect the machines.”

Woodby also recognized Administrator of Elections Tracy Tanner-Harris and the Election Commission staff. “They’re the backbone of what’s going on here,” she said. “So, let’s all say a small prayer for them this year as we have these many elections coming through, and a lot of people and a lot of hours put in.”

Hargett gave recognition to state Rep. John Holsclaw (R-Elizabethton), Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville), Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), and Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), saying, “These legislators … have made sure that all 95 counties in the state of Tennessee in this election are going to have a verified paper audit trail” if a recount is needed in an election.

“We have about a half-million-dollar investment here just in Carter County – and across the state of Tennessee, you know, spent well over $20 million – to make sure that we had the necessary equipment to continue to know that our votes are counted once – no more, no less – so you could have confidence in elections in Tennessee,” he said. “Tennessee is ranked No. 1 in the nation in election integrity, according to the Heritage Foundation.”

Hargett credited state laws and executing those laws as key to ensuring election integrity, but he said the “real secret weapon is the fact that we’ve got great bipartisan election commissions across the state of Tennessee.”

“Republicans keep an eye on Democrats. Democrats keep an eye on Republicans,” he said. “They program the machines together. They count the votes together. They check in voters together. Democrats or Republicans are working together side by side throughout the process to make sure that Tennesseans can trust the results of their elections.”

Crowe told the story of how the annex project came into being, saying Election Commission Chairman Junior Stanley saw the problem of securing 90 new voting machines and had discussed it with the other members of the commission. Crowe said state lawmakers representing the area pondered the need for $20,000 or $30,000 and Hargett’s office met the need. “So, we really appreciate that, Tre,” Crowe said.

“And we can’t thank Junior enough,” the senator said. “I mean, Junior has stressed about this every day. Every day.”

Crowe recognized Michael Whitehead, of Whitehead Construction Co. in Elizabethton, as he read a state Senate proclamation honoring the contractor who “went above and beyond the call of duty” in quickly completing construction in time for the upcoming election. Preston Whitehead accepted the proclamation on his father’s behalf from Holsclaw and Hill.

The voter registration deadline for the March 5 Presidential Preference Primary and County Primary Election is Monday, Feb. 5, with early voting set for Feb. 14-27. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Feb. 27.