Kingsport Times News Friday, August 29, 2014

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City residents eligible to vote in Sullivan County races

April 12th, 2014 7:43 pm by J. H. Osborne

City residents eligible to vote in Sullivan County races

BLOUNTVILLE — Most of the registered voters in Sullivan County live inside a city.

That doesn't mean they lose their county citizenship — or their right to vote in county elections.

City residents are county residents and county taxpayers. Some of those taxes pay for countywide services provided through county government.

City residents are represented by county commissioners, who they have a say in electing, by district.

The election process itself, in fact, is an example of the type of services provided countywide.

While the state provides a certain level of funding and administrative oversight of the election process — and each municipality reimburses the county election office for city elections — voter registration and other aspects of the election process are handled by the Sullivan County Election Office.

Sullivan County Administrator of Elections Jason Booher said that office has in recent weeks received questions that indicate there is some confusion in the community about whether or not city residents can vote in upcoming county elections.

One person, Booher said, thought they could no longer vote in a county commission race because they have been annexed by a city since the last election.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 90,849 registered voters in Sullivan County.

Only 44,855 of them live in the non-incorporated areas of the county, Booher said — the other 45,994 live inside one of the four cities within Sullivan County: Kingsport (with 29,769 registered Sullivan County voters); Bristol (with 14,995 registered Sullivan County voters): Bluff City (with 991 registered Sullivan County voters); and Johnson City (with 239 registered Sullivan County voters).

Booher said another question the election office has been receiving calls about recently is if there is a restriction on voting in a party primary.

In Tennessee, voters do not register by party and state law permits an "open" primary process — a voter completes an application for ballot and selects the primary of their choosing in a primary election like the one scheduled May 6.

Tennessee law directs that a voter is entitled to vote in a party primary if: the voter is a bona fide member of and affiliated with the political party in whose primary the voter seeks to vote; or, at the time the voter seeks to vote, the voter declares allegiance to the political party in whose primary the voters seeks to vote and states that the voter intends to affiliate with that party.

Booher said no voter in Sullivan County has ever been challenged at the polls due to questions about their party affiliation.

If a candidate places poll watchers at the polling place — something they have the right to do, but must provide advance notice they intend to do — those poll watchers do have the right to question a voter's allegiance to the party in question.

As of Friday afternoon, no local candidates in the upcoming primaries had filed notice of intent to have poll watchers on hand for upcoming voting.

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