There are some questions that need to be answered before the county election next year, but there doesn’t appear to be anyone to answer them.
Can anybody run for any Knox County Commission seat, regardless of where they live? Normally the requirements are a one-year residency in the district before you can run. But the county charter says “the district residency requirement shall not apply in the first general election at which commission seats appear on the ballot following any reapportionment or redistricting of commission districts.”
This was probably meant to apply to a commissioner who got moved out of his district when new district lines were drawn. But it doesn’t say that. It merely says the residency requirement is waived. So can someone run, win the election, then move to the district? It would appear so.
Since the charter change has created new commission districts, including two county-wide commissioners, do term limits still apply? Could a two-term commissioner run, saying all bets are off since the commission district has been abolished and reconstituted? Can a term-limited district commissioner run for a county-wide seat? It’s not the same seat.
What about Commissioner Mike Hammond? He served a two-year commission term, then a four-year term. Is he term-limited having been in office during two terms? Or does the two-year term count? You can argue it both ways and Hammond is running.
What if these commissioners who have served two terms under the old charter provision just declare it doesn’t apply and qualify to run? That’s where the enforcement issue arises.
It is not up to the Election Commission to decide who goes on the ballot. We can’t give the election administrator the power to keep people off the ballot. An unenforceable opinion could be sought from the county law director, if anybody cares what Bill Lockett thinks anymore.
But surely a judge can rule on the issue? Well, judges don’t issue rulings on spec. They rule on cases. It seems to me that a challenger would have to go to court, after the election, and raise these issues to get a decision. You can’t just ask a judge for a ruling when there is no case to be heard.
I suppose it would be possible for an election opponent to go to court and ask for a temporary restraining order to keep a two-term commissioner off the ballot. But such an order could be appealed and likely wouldn’t be enforceable before the election. It took a state Supreme Court ruling to enforce term limits last time. It could take years.
There is another election issue that will have to be dealt with before the next county election. The proposed convenience voting plan was shot down. This would have set up fewer polling places and people could vote over several days, and election day would be the last day of the extended voting period.
One of the issues that would have been resolved by convenience voting is the number of polling places where few people vote any more. Should the county pay to staff and provide machines to a polling place where 34 people vote on election day? There are six existing polling places where fewer than 200 people vote on election day. They vote more than that, but most of them early vote.
The 34 voters are at Huffs, off Riverside Drive, where the South Knox Commission district comes across the river. But hardly anyone lives there. The Division Street campus of Pellissippi State voted 51 in the last election. Dante, southwest of Halls, voted 91. There is a Hardin Valley box that voted 139. Kings, in South Knoxville, voted 149. The area north of West High School voted 165 in the last county election.
There being no enforcement provision for many of these issues, then it will be up to the voters to decide them. You can decide to vote for a candidate whether they live in the district or not. You can vote for a supposedly term-limited county commissioner. Or not.
Let the campaigns begin.