JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – Maybell Stewart has retired as the Washington County Election Commissioner, and three of the commission’s five appointed members have been replaced.
Newly-elected Tennessee State Representative Tim Hicks (R-6th) said in November he wanted improvements at the Washington County Election Commission — and hinted some changes were likely pending among commissioners.
That played out Monday, when the state’s election commission approved John Abe Teague, Phyllis Fox and Gary McAllister as new Republican representatives on the five-member board. The two incumbent Democrats, C.B. Kinch and Margaret Davis, were reappointed.
“We’d had so many issues the last couple of elections that it was time for a change,” Hicks told News Channel 11 Friday. “We’ve got to get things going on a positive note.”
Washington County’s election returns were posted on the WCEC website significantly later than surrounding counties in 2020’s primary and general elections.
The three new members, who still must sign paperwork before their appointments are official, replace former Chair Janet McKee, Patti Jarrett and Jon Ruetz.
The state representatives and senator serving a county are responsible for submitting names to the state election commission for two-year terms.
Hicks said he, Rep. Rebecca Alexander (R-7th) and State Senator Rusty Crowe (R-3rd) solicited applications from people interested in serving. He said none of the three existing members submitted their names, but a total of six people did.
Each legislator wrote their top three choices privately and submitted the names to former Congressman Phil Roe.
“We have put three great people in leadership there,” Hicks said of the result.
From here, he said the legislators are leaving the work in the hands of the commission, but they know what they’d like to see.
“We want to get to where we’re number one in the state, that’s the goal and I think the people we have put in place (will) make the right decision on who to hire and put over this, and we’ll move forward,” Hicks said. “That’s what this is about.”
Since Stewart’s retirement, Chief Deputy Wilma Nolen is overseeing day-to-day operations.
John Abe Teague, a former aide to Roe, said Friday the new members hope to be “official” within days and have called a reorganization meeting for this coming Thursday.
Teague said he also hopes the commission can chart a path toward being one of the best in the state. He had a chance to speak with several of the office’s employees briefly Thursday, including Nolen.
“I’m a person who tries to exceed expectations, personally, and I hope that our office can be considered as one of the top election commissions in the state of Tennessee,” he said. “That’s my hope.”
For Teague, that includes efficient use of taxpayer money.
Washington County’s local election commission budget for this fiscal year — including about $32,000 for a five-month lease of the former Ace Hardware in Jonesborough for a polling site — is $784,882. Sullivan County’s is $786,942.
Using 2020 general election presidential numbers as an example, Sullivan County processed about 74,000 votes to Washington County’s approximate 59,000. That’s 25 percent more votes processed by Sullivan County for essentially the same cost to county taxpayers.
He said the commission plays an important role as questions about voting and elections have risen to the forefront of national conversations.
“We have got to look into the future and make sure that we honor what this country stands for, and that is a clean vote and a return where people know what has happened as soon as possible,” Teague said. “Not days later, but hours after it’s over, and make sure that the voting’s fair.”
Another objective, Teague said, is that “we get a return (of results) to the media as soon as possible – and to the constituents of Washington County.”