The confirmation last week of the suspension and probationary period for Shelby County Elections Administrator Richard Holden may not be the end of his difficulties.
Holden’s six-month probationary period will take him and the Shelby County Election Commission through the Nov. 6 elections and the two-week early-voting period before Election Day.
If there are similar problems then, there might be renewed talk among Republicans and Democrats of changes in the office.
State officials in Nashville will probably announce during that time the results of their investigation of acknowledged problems during the Aug. 2 elections in Shelby County. And two Shelby County Chancery Court challenges of the election results based on those problems will likely be decided during the six months as well.
Holden was suspended for three days and put on probation for six months by the Election Commission in a private meeting three weeks ago. The suspension is expected to begin next month followed by the probationary period.
The commission acted in executive session on the personnel matter after a public move in August by the two Democratic commissioners to ask for his resignation failed on a party line 2-3 vote.
Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers confirmed the disciplinary action Thursday, Sept. 20, but wouldn’t comment beyond that, saying it was a personnel matter.
At least 1,000 voters received ballots during early voting and on the Aug. 2 Election Day with some of the wrong district races.
The problems prompted a call by Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett for an audit by the state comptroller’s office.
It is the second state investigation of Shelby County election problems in two years.
In asking for the audit, Hargett said the latest problems – as well as problems over several years with how Shelby County elections were conducted – had eroded public confidence in the county’s election process.
Holden’s response to state investigators’ written questions pinned much of the blame on the once-a-decade redistricting process. The ballot problems affected primary races for the Tennessee Legislature and congressional races.
But the legislature completed drawing the district lines for both in February. Holden said the problem was that the Shelby County Commission delayed redrawing its district boundaries until June. The commission couldn’t get a nine-vote majority to give final approval to any redistricting plan, and Chancellor Arnold Goldin later ended the dispute by ordering a redistricting plan for the commission that had received a seven-vote simple majority earlier.
Some critics argue the reclassification of the district races voters would make choices in should have begun earlier. But Holden told state investigators he didn’t get the green light to do that until about a month before early voting in advance of the Aug. 2 election.
The audit is still under way, and election commissioners haven’t received a report from the state on election problems to date.
Countywide school board candidate Kenneth Whalum Jr. has filed suit in Chancery Court contesting his 108-vote loss to Kevin Woods in the certified vote count in one of the seven district school board races on the August ballot. In the lawsuit, he cites the voting problems.
The city of Millington has also filed suit in Chancery Court contesting the three-vote margin by which a sales tax hike ballot question failed in the election. The suit cites residents of the Lucy area being allowed to vote on the ballot question though they were not residents of the city of Millington. Millington officials annexed the area prior to Election Day, but a lawsuit contesting the annexation prompted them to de-annex the area before Aug. 2.