published Saturday, March 10th, 2012

World War II veteran turned away at polls

Tennessee's fail-safe voting system failed Tuesday for Art Reese.

The 85-year-old World War II veteran was turned away at the polls in Meigs County because of miscommunication and wasn't offered a provisional ballot as state law requires.

Reese, who retired from Amoco Oil, takes voting seriously and is upset he didn't get to cast a ballot in the Super Tuesday primary election.

"Back in 1944, when I was over in Europe fighting for this country, jumping from foxhole to foxhole, I didn't have this kind of problem," Reese said Friday by telephone.

Poll workers in Meigs County really couldn't be blamed when he showed them a Hamilton County driver's license and said he'd been living in Collegedale since June. State law allows people to vote in their old precinct within 90 days after they move; meanwhile, they're supposed to register at their new address.

But what the poll workers didn't know and Reese didn't think to tell them was that he lives in an assisted-living complex, which is not considered a permanent change of address.

"If someone is in assisted living, that's different. That's like a nursing home. But I wasn't given that information," Meigs Elections Administrator Judy McAllister said Friday.

Reese said he wants to vote in Meigs because he owns a house and property there. His name's still on the Meigs voter registration rolls, he said.

"What irritated me, too, was the fact that there was one lady there who was kind of inclined to let me vote. The rest said 'No, no, you can't vote here; you have the wrong address on your driver's license.' Then one said, 'Well, Mrs. So-and-So from Cleveland, they drove up here from Cleveland and voted.'

"It didn't set well with me. They knew I was unhappy when I left," Reese said.

Then he saw in the newspaper where former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis got turned away at his Fentress County polling place because his name was wrongly purged from the rolls.

"He got a great, big apology, and it was more or less the same type of incident," Reese said.

McAllister offered the same to Reese.

"I realize now I should have offered him a provisional [ballot], but I did not. I was wrong, and I apologize for that," McAllister said.

Blake Fontenay, spokesman for Tennessee Secretary of State Tré Hargett, said only a few voter problems were reported Tuesday among the 625,000 or so ballots cast.

"They're all regrettable to us," Fontenay said. "We want everybody to vote if they're eligible. All we can do at the state level is provide the best training we can to the county officials and hope they drill down to the workers."

Reese missed the primary, but the election season has barely begun. The county general election is Aug. 2 and the national election is Nov. 6.

"If I go up to the same place, they better let me vote," he said.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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