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VOL. 127 | NO. 185 | Friday, September 21, 2012

Holden Suspended by Election Commission

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Elections Administrator Richard Holden has been suspended for three days and put on probation for six months following the suspension because of the way the Aug. 2 elections were conducted.

Shelby County Election Commissioners took the action after a move in August by the two Democratic election commissioners to ask for his resignation failed.

Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers confirmed the action Thursday, Sept. 20, but wouldn’t comment beyond the action saying it was a personnel action.

The suspension is expected to be served by Holden during October.

The commission met in an executive session three weeks ago specifically to take up some kind of disciplinary action against Holden for an election in which at least 1,000 voters got ballots during early voting and on 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. In asking for the audit, Hargett said the problems as well as earlier problems over several years with the conduct of elections in Shelby County had eroded confidence in the county’s election process.

Holden’s response to written questions from state investigators 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 the delay until June by the Shelby County Commission in redrawing its district boundaries. 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 gotten a seven-vote simple majority earlier.

Some critics argue the redistricting should have begun earlier although Holden told the state investigators he never got the green light to do that until about a month before early voting starting in advance of the Aug. 2 election day.

The audit is still under way and election commissioners have received no report from the state on the 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 lawsuit cites residents of the Lucy area being allowed to vote on the ballot question when they were not residents of the city of Millington.

Millington officials had annexed the area prior to the election day, but a lawsuit contesting the annexation then prompted them to deannex the same area before election day.

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