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State has lost sight of meaning, importance of ‘write-in candidates’

Any write-in ballots cast for Eddie Haren in last week’s Washington County General Election were not counted – by order of the court.
The denial of Haren’s appeal to Chancery Court highlights several flaws in Tennessee’s election procedure.
Haren was originally deemed ineligible to be elected by the County Election Commission after an error made in June by Election Administrator Connie Sinks.
The Election Administrator gave Haren the wrong filing date for write-in candidates, causing him to file his paperwork two days after the state deadline.
When it comes right down to it, having any filing date for write-in candidates violates the spirit of free and open elections and should be changed.
The entire purpose of “write-ins” is to facilitate the ability of all citizens to present themselves as candidates under circumstances where the printed-ballot may not offer the choices desired by voters.
In Haren’s case, his candidacy would have provided a challenge to two incumbent County Commissioners who had no opposition.
In other words, Haren would have presented voters with a choice and choice is the essence of the American electoral system.
Other reasons for allowing a last minute “write-in” candidate appear obvious.
For instance, what if one of the candidates for commissioner in Haren’s district had died shortly before Election Day? Voters could have filled the vacant seat if write-ins had been permitted.
The discovery of last minute impairment to a candidate’s qualification, such as the candidate moving from a commission district for a new job in another city or state, could also have occurred.
The instances are numerous in which a write-in vote would have filled a position by voter selection rather than appointment of a governing body like the County Commission.
The Northeast Legislative delegation is urged to submit an amendment to present state election laws to allow write-in voting without the “pre-qualification” paperwork now required by Tennessee law.
Another aspect of Haren’s effort to qualify as a write-in candidate is troublesome.
He represented himself in the hearing before Chancellor Richard Johnson under circumstances in which experienced County Attorney John Rambo was able to insert numerous “legal” objections into the proceedings.
For example, according to Rambo and the Chancellor, Haren could have filed a request for an extension of the filing deadline based on his situation, but failed to do so. The Commission candidate was told also that he could have filed a writ of mandamus, which essentially asks the court to make a government entity “do what it’s supposed to do.”
Either of these legal efforts might have hurried up the case so that it took place prior to the start of early voting.
Americans today live in an age where courts will provide forms and lawyers for any citizen threatened with incarnation However, when it comes to being a candidate and attempting to secure the opportunity for citizens to vote for an individual, election laws seem to be more and more complicated with hardly any help to those seeking to be elected. In fact, in Haren’s instance, the advice given by the Election Administrator was incorrect.
He was forced to defend his right to be a candidate, with the burden of proof resting on him, despite the fact that he was not the one to make the error in the first place.
The present procedure seems unfair. Tennessee should have an ombudsman or other official who could represent and give a candidate like Haren advice when ballot problems arise.
Both the Republican and Democrat parties could likewise have “volunteer” lawyers knowledgeable of election laws to help such individuals struggling to comply with the provisions of filing and other deadlines.
Haren is encouraged to try again in two years for a seat on the County Commission.
Voters in Washington County do have a sense of fairness. With some diligent campaigning and armed now with a better knowledge of election laws, Haren will have that chance to seek voter approval of his quest for an elected county office — hopefully without first having to get the court’s consent.