JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — About a year after wholesale changes in Washington County, Tennessee’s election leadership, the county’s chief election commissioner said he’s hoping citizens will get results much more quickly Tuesday than they did in both 2020 elections.
As voters cruised through lines behind him at the Freedom Hall Civic Center precinct, Election Commission Chairman Gary McAllister said the commission and its new administrator, Dana Jones, have taken numerous steps to improve the process.
“Our first thing is to make sure we get them accurate,” McAllister said of the results the county will release. However, McAllister was appointed, along with new fellow Republicans John Abe Teague and Phyllis Fox, with an eye toward a more modernized commission.
McAllister added that the commission understands changes were made with an eye toward a quicker turnaround of results, which came much later than other counties’ two years ago.
“We’ve done a lot of training with our workers and put some procedures in place so they know how to get the results as quickly as possible,” McAllister told News Channel 11.
New state representatives Tim Hicks (R-6th) and Rebecca Alexander (R-7th) both made it clear they wanted to see a change after none of the county’s results were shared on the commission’s website or with any media until about 10:10 p.m. Nov. 3, 2020 — more than two hours after polls closed. Sullivan County had its early voting totals up about 8:10 p.m. and had posted nearly all election-day results by 9 p.m., with most other area counties not far behind.
“This is not the first issue that we’ve seen, so it’s pretty frustrating to sit here and go through this,” then-candidate Hicks said as he awaited results the night of his election.
Since Jones came on just days after former administrator Maybell Stewart’s early April 2021 retirement, the commission has upgraded its website, cut the number of precincts from 35 to 23 and purchased “poll pads” that were making election day voting much quicker Tuesday.
Mark Finucane was working the Freedom Hall precinct and has been a poll worker for nine years since retiring from the Johnson City Fire Department. He said the poll pads were a “game-changer” for election day.
The iPad-like devices work by having a voter put their state-issued ID up to be read by a scanner. The voter’s information pops up on the screen for the poll worker, and a few bits of information are exchanged verbally before a small paper spits out.
The voter confirms the correct address, signs the paper and heads to the voting machine. The previous process involved a lot more paper and finding voters’ names in logbooks.
“It’s easier and quicker,” Finucane said. “We can process a voter and get him or her in and out in a matter of seconds, really, when we start clicking it off. Corrections are resolved easily too, and more thoroughly and accurately.”
McAllister said the poll pads will be a boon post-election as well when workers used to require about three weeks to manually download information about who all voted.
“Now we can do it very quickly using computer poll pads.”
While election day turnout was light by late morning, Tuesday’s ballot has a lot of races on it. For all the new investment and money-saving due to cutting precincts, eyes will be trained most closely on when those results hit the website and local media.
“I think we’re ready,” McAllister said. “We’ve got it lined out, we’ve got the best-laid plans. We’ll just have to see what happens.”