JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – Washington County’s three newly appointed Republican election commissioners didn’t waste any time naming a replacement for retired election administrator Maybell Stewart in their very first meeting.
The commission’s new chairman said Monday that new administrator Dana Jones’s mandate is to bring down the cost of running elections and deliver results sooner, while maintaining a track record of fair elections.
Jones was confirmed Thursday in a 3-2 vote with both holdover Democratic commissioners voting no.
“Our goal is to reduce cost and make sure we’ve got accurate and fair elections,” Chairman Gary McAllister told News Channel 11. “Those are my two goals I would like to see happen, and I think we can do that by looking at a number of different things.”
Indeed, by Friday – her first full day on the job – Jones was presenting a proposal to the County Owned Property Committee of the Washington County Commission that could shave almost $30,000 off of what the county had paid for its Jonesborough early voting site.
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.
McAllister said he also wanted to see the Washington County Election Commission (WCEC) deliver election night results to the public more quickly than it recently has.
The WCEC took several hours to post its results the night of the November general election and was also significantly slower than most area counties in the March primary.
“We’d like to get it as soon as possible, too,” McAllister said. “And get it correctly done. I know we can do that.”
McAllister, John Abe Teague and Phyllis Fox confirmed Jones as the new administrator. Jones’s primary experience has been in pharmaceutical sales and marketing.
The three administrators were tapped months after Tim Hicks and Rebecca Alexander ousted Micah Van Huss and Matthew Hill as Washington County’s state representatives. The new legislators had criticized the WCEC’s performance and said they planned to seek a new slate of election commissioners.
McAllister, the new chairman, said he met Jones after she had expressed interest in one of the commission slots and was “extremely impressed.”
“She’s a leader and a team builder,” McAllister said. “I think once the media and the people of Washington County get to know her, they’ll be very impressed as well.”
When asked about the speed with which a candidate was brought forward and voted on, McAllister pointed to the work ahead of the new administrator and the WCEC overall.
He said census results coming in September make it important for a new administrator to learn the job and begin working on the cost and timeliness objectives ahead of additional tasks the census results will bring.
Leaning on Sullivan County
Reached briefly Monday morning, Jones said she was entering an intense workweek that would include meetings with Sullivan County Election Administrator Jason Booher.
Jones said Booher will mentor her and that she’ll be able to get some election experience from the administrator vantage point as Sullivan County conducts a Kingsport Board of Mayor and Alderman election May 18. Early voting in that contest starts April 28.
McAllister said Sullivan County has set a standard for cost, speed of results and accountability the WCEC wants to meet or exceed. One example he gave was the total number of precincts — 25 in Sullivan County, which covers more square miles and has a larger population — compared to 35 in Washington County.
“I know they have less, and a larger area than we have and they seem to get their results and their costs are way down,” McAllister said.
He said commissioners contacted Booher to see if he would help Jones get her feet wet, and he gladly agreed. He said he has also contacted the state for help.
“I think anyone’s willing to help us, we just have to reach out and ask, and they’re willing to do whatever we need to make sure we get to function properly and everything goes smooth.”
McAllister said he expects Jones to rise to the occasion.
“She’s been successful everywhere she’s been and I think she will continue that success as the election administrator,” McAllister said.
He said maintaining a record of fair elections in which every vote is counted properly is his top objective.
“Bottom line is we want to get it right,” he said. “We want to make sure we get it right and every vote’s counted, that’s the biggest thing.”