By Keeli Parkey
In what officials said was a first for the county, the state’s top election official visited the office of the Unicoi County Election Commission on Monday, May 2.
Tennessee Administrator of Elections Mark Goins was greeted by Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey and by Election Commission members Tom Reeves, who serves as chairman, Paul Monk, Roland Bailey and Marvin Rogers.
“This is historic,” Reeves said. “We have never had someone from your office visit us.”
Following a tour of the Election Commission office, Goins fielded questions from Bailey and panel members. Discussed at length was the issue of schools being open on election days. Many schools, including schools in Unicoi County, are used as polling places. Goins said a bill to close schools on election days failed to pass the State Legislature during its most recent session. Instead, local school districts will be able to decide whether or not to have school on election days.
“The bill to flat out close school (on election days) did not pass,” Goins said. “… I think it is a school safety issue.”
The Election Commission members agreed.
“The four schools where we vote here … you walk into vote and you are basically 50 feet away from where students are,” Rogers said. “There is not an officer present most of the time and if you’re crazy enough, you could do some damage.”
Early voting was also a topic of conversation Monday afternoon.
Goins said the majority of states do not offer early voting. Tennessee does offer early voting.
“You would be surprised how many states don’t have early voting like we do,” Goins said. “I am a proponent of early voting. Administration wise, it really makes your life a lot better. … Those extra two weeks help us and alleviates the traffic (on election day).
“At national conventions people talk about long lines (at the polls). They are talking about two, three, four hours,” Goins continued. “Our longest waits are usually no more than 30 or 45 minutes. There are exceptions if a machine goes down, or something like that.”
Goins also reported that Tennessee will offer online voter registration beginning in 2017.