Budget has been under scrutiny since changes in early voting procedures

The Sumner County Election Commission’s budget will be on the agenda at their commission’s monthly meeting Tuesday. If approved, the budget will be resubmitted to the Sumner County Commission for re-approval.

The budget has been under scrutiny since the election commissioners voted to eliminate early voting satellite locations for the Presidential Preference Primary and Sumner County Primary in March and the Sumner County General Election in August.

Even though the county commission has technically approved the budget, the budget could be amended to include funds for the early voting satellite locations to be opened.

County Commissioner Larry Hinton (2) said regarding the possibility of those locations being opened in parts of the county, “Here’s what I for sure think: If you are going to put satellite voting anywhere it needs to be everywhere. I might be convinced that we really didn’t need it everywhere, but if you put it anywhere, it needs to be everywhere.”

When asked if he would vote to fund satellite early voting locations, Hinton said, “Yes, that might change with debate…. It looks like you wouldn’t need a whole staff of people there. If satellite voting is less, it looks like you could downsize the group at each of the sites and the expense wouldn’t be so great.”

Several weeks ago, it was learned that the election commission did not approve the budget before the administrator of elections Lori Atchley sent it to the county commission.

The Portland Leader obtained emails from AOE Atchley to the election commission under the Freedom of Information Act.

On June 23, AOE Atchley sent an email to members of the election commission stating (in part), “FYI — there is no statutory requirement that the election commission formally adopts or approves the proposed election commission budget via a motion, second, and a vote. The county commission is the funding body who formally funds every department in the county as well as the school board.”

This newspaper contacted the Tennessee Election Office for clarification on July 6 and received an email from Adam Ghassemi, Director of Communications from the Office of Tennessee Secretary of Tennessee State Tre Hargett quoting the laws that require the election commissioners to approve the budget before it is sent to the county commission.

The same day, AOE Atchley sent an email to the members of the election commission to inform them of a call she had received from the Tennessee State Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins regarding an inquiry from a state official asking if the Tennessee Code Annotated Laws referring to the AOE and local election commissioners responsibilities regarding the budget had been violated.

The Portland Leader received a copy of the July 6 email from Atchley to the election commissioners under The Freedom of Information Act.

In the email Atchley stated (in part), “It is the Coordinators opinion that the words “for approval” and “upon approval” means that the election commission should vote on the annual operating budget that I prepare prior to submittal to the county commission for funding.”

According to the email, Chairman (M. Allen) Ehmling has instructed her to place this on the agenda for the Tuesday meeting. She attached a copy of the budget, which had been approved by the county commission, to the email and recommended that the election commission adopt this budget.

Election commissioner Kay Kemnitz (D) said, “If we are going to revisit the budget, I would like to see it amended to include funding to reinstate satellite early voting. The county commission would then have the opportunity to vote to fund reinstating it.”

County commissioner Hinton (2) said, “I hope that this was an oversight and not by intent.

“I think the (election) commission should have dealt with that. Those people on the election commission ought to be sharp enough to know, ‘Look we didn’t vote on this budget. What’s the deal with that?’ This should have never got to this place. You have attorneys and everybody else on that commission. Why didn’t somebody raise the issue, ‘Hey, if we got a budget approved this year, why has nobody seen it?’

“I’m on the road committee; and if we got a budget approved, and we had never seen it, I suppose there would have been some questions coming out of the committee. It wouldn’t have had to be brought up by the media.”

UPDATE: The Sumner County Election Commission voted on July 14 to give the Administrator of Elections one month to study the following options: a) No satellite early voting; b) Only have satellite early voting in Hendersonville; or c) Have satellite early voting county-wide.

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