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Office ready for upcoming campaign season

Members of the Washington County Election Commission Office are prepared for the excitement and challenges involved in a year offering May, August and November elections in county and state governments.
Also thrown in to make it even more interesting are elections in a couple of county school board districts, and a Town of Jonesborough municipal election that will choose a mayor and two aldermen.
“This is a really big year because we also have the state judicial retention offices whose candidates run every eight years,” Administrator Maybell Stewart said last week in the newly renovated offices now located on the third floor of the downtown courthouse in Jonesborough.
Staff began working months in advance of the Nov. 22 date to pick up nominating petitions. Multiple packets containing campaign calendars, required forms and examples of how to complete each are prepared for all offices, and an inventory must be maintained throughout the qualifying deadline.
“It runs smoother when everything is ready, and makes it faster for those who come in to fill out a petition,” she said.
In addition to providing the packet of information, Election Office staff are available to answer questions and assist those interested in running for office.
When prospective candidates bring back the completed forms and required signatures, a detailed verification process begins. The signatures and addresses on the petition form in support of the candidate must be individually checked against the signatures and information on the voter registration form. “The minimum number of signatures is 25, but we always check a few more,” Stewart said. Candidates are then notified their petition is complete.
Following the withdrawal date, final approval to be placed on the ballot must be given by the Election Commissioners.
A list of the candidates and a sample ballot will then be posted on the Election Commission website for review.
The Election Office also fields numerous calls from the public. Stewart said the most common questions relate to qualifying deadlines, whether a voter’s registration is current, and the dates of early voting.
The pace reaches its peak when early voting starts. “We have three early voting sites, and those are probably the busiest day other than Election Day,” she said.
Stewart encourages candidates to avoid waiting until the last week to pick up their petitions. “Give yourself time to get the needed signatures,” she advised.
And as far as the qualifying deadline, there is no margin for error. “The deadline is noon on the qualifying date,” she said. “If you come in at 12:01, it’s too late.”
Planning ahead is also good for voters. While Washington County could accept out-of-state photo identification during the 2010 election, voters must present a Tennessee photo identification during 2014.
Updating address information could also make a difference, Stewart noted. A change of address form related to a move made within Washington County can be filled out at the polling place, but a new Washington County resident who is registered as voting in another county risks losing the opportunity to vote. “A change of county, even within the state, is considered a new registration and that deadline would have passed,” she said.
Stewart said the number of petitions picked up to-date for the 2014 elections are comparable to 2010.
“Many of the officials picked theirs up in November, while most of the commissioners waited until after the first of the year,” she said, adding the majority of the action comes down to the last few weeks.
Fortunately, Stewart says the five members of the Election Office staff work well together. “Everyone expects there will be extra hours during a campaign and is willing to pitch in,” she said. Serving with Stewart are Administrative Assistant Rebecca Vines and Deputies Sandra Britton, Sheila Hayes and Vaughn Tucker.
Credit also must be given to the county Election Commissioners. “They call and ask if we need anything, and they are the kind of people we know we can count on,” she said.
Stewart joined the Election Office full time in 2002, and the experience gained during this tenure keeps her calm in the face of a daunting few months.
“I’ve loved it from the very beginning,” she said. “It’s interesting, you meet a lot of nice people and it’s very satisfying work.”