published Sunday, August 5th, 2012

Tennessee GOP must agree to recount in Gardenhire-Vital race


by Chris Carroll
From left, Todd Gardenhire, Greg Vital
From left, Todd Gardenhire, Greg Vital

DISTRICT 10 PRIMARY TOTALS

Name // Bradley // Hamilton // Total

Gardenhire // 1,817 // 6,203 // 8,020

Vital // 2,586 // 5,394 // 7,980

Source: Tennessee Division of Elections

Down a few dozen votes, Republican state Senate candidate Greg Vital hasn't decided if he'll attempt to clear numerous hurdles between him and a recount, a spokesman said Saturday.

"We'll make an announcement this week," spokesman Rob Alderman said. "First we're waiting on all the votes to be counted. Hamilton County found 25 votes they didn't have before Friday. Are there others out there we'll know about today or tomorrow?"

Records show exactly 16,000 GOP primary ballots were cast in Senate District 10, which includes parts of Bradley and Hamilton counties.

Republican Todd Gardenhire's 15-vote election day lead over Vital grew to 40 Friday when Hamilton County Election Commission officials said a voting machine error caused them to miss 25 Gardenhire votes in the Eastdale precinct.

That glitch and the 40-vote spread led Vital to issue a news release asking for a recount Friday.

Gardenhire said Saturday that "something like that would slow this process down" and keep him from campaigning against District 10's Democratic nominee, Chattanooga City Councilman AndraƩ McGary.

"But this is America," Gardenhire said. "If Greg needs to be satisfied those are the real numbers, that's his right."

Hamilton County Election Commission attorney Chris Clem said Vital's desire alone won't get the recount process under way.

State law "appears to vest all jurisdiction for contested primaries with the state parties," Clem and others said, so Vital cannot appeal directly to local or state election officials. Instead, Vital must persuade the Tennessee Republican Party to request a politically divisive recount.

If the party agrees, Vital would have to pay for the recount, state GOP Executive Director Adam Nickas said.

Clem described a potential recount as "very expensive," costing "thousands of dollars" in Hamilton County alone. Vital has loaned $125,000 to his campaign and had about $22,000 cash on hand, according to disclosures filed July 25.

Nickas said Saturday he wasn't aware of any official recount requests from any Republican campaign statewide. Records show at least two House GOP primaries in Tennessee with margins slimmer than Vital's -- five votes and 11 votes.

If any candidate asks for a recount, Nickas said, state party Chairman Chris Devaney would appoint a subcommittee to look at "the request and evidence." The subcommittee would make a recommendation to the state GOP's 66-member executive committee for a yes-or-no vote.

Clem said if Vital and the state GOP want a District 10 recount, all they need to do is find money to fund it.

"If the check clears, [the election commissions] don't have any right to say no," he said. "Hamilton County and Bradley County don't have any discretion."

Vital, who won Bradley County but lost Hamilton County, cannot ask for only one county's ballots to be inspected. Clem said every District 10 ballot would have to be rerun through a machine, one by one.

It's unclear how long Vital has to mull over the process. A candidate has up to five days to request a recount after the state certifies election results, Nickas said, but the Bradley County Election Commission hasn't set a date to certify its own ballots. The Hamilton County Election Commission expects to certify Aug. 16.

Clem, a former state representative, said history indicates Gardenhire may be in the clear.

"It is my understanding that the state parties rarely approve or accept a request by a candidate to contest a primary result," Clem said.

Three provisional ballots in Bradley County and two provisional ballots in Hamilton County haven't been added to the District 10 vote count yet, officials said. Both election commissions meet Monday to review the ballots to see if they qualify.

"The provisional ballots could be people who did not have picture IDs," Clem said, adding that others may have claimed to be registered but were not on election rolls.

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