Johnson's options in ballot fight limited

Nov. 10, 2016: State House District 13 candidate Gloria Johnson said she knows her chance of winning is "very slim," but she still wants all of the provisional ballots to be counted in the race.

UPDATE: Six out of 56 people who cast a provisional ballot in Tuesday's election showed up to verify their identity as required to preserve their vote, according to the Knox County Election Commission.

The deadline to show proof was 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Those who failed to show can't have their ballots counted in the election, which included the presidential race as well as several legislative contests.

Democratic state House candidate Gloria Johnson questions whether those who filed a provisional ballot were properly advised Tuesday that they faced a Thursday deadline to offer proof of identity.

Johnson ran against Republican incumbent Eddie Smith on Tuesday in a race that saw him claim victory with a 154-vote margin. She vowed on election night not to concede until she was certain all votes, including provisional ballots, had been properly counted.

The former 13th House District representative's legal options appear limited. She sought by injunction in Knox County Chancery Court on Wednesday to get the names of all those who filed a provisional ballot. The effort was unsuccessful.

Johnson told 10News her chances of winning appeared slim but she wants everyone to know every vote counts.

"I think we need to have a clear, transparent process," she said. "Every person's vote needs to be counted. We have people who feel like their vote doesn't matter. I talk to a lot of them. If we don't count every vote, it justifies what their thinking."

Smith, who thinks he won re-election, said he had nothing further to say.

"This issue is now between Ms. Johnson and the Election Commission," he said. "We have 100 percent confidence in the Knox County Election Commission."

The commission will certify the winner Nov. 28.

The state Democratic Party chair on Thursday accused Cliff Rodgers, the Election Commission administrator, of being "missing in action" when Johnson is trying to get answers about her race. Rodgers and his staff communicated with journalists throughout the day Thursday.

PREVIOUS UPDATE: Tennessee State House candidate Gloria Johnson has sued to get information about provisional ballots still being counted from Tuesday’s election in Knox County.

The Knoxville Democrat is seeking through an injunction in Knox County Chancery Court to get the names and addresses of those who filed provisional ballots from elections administrator Cliff Rodgers. Attorney John Eldridge filed the paperwork Wednesday afternoon.

Johnson seeks to notify the 597 people who filed provisional ballots that they have until 4:30 p.m. Thursday to submit proper identification to ensure their ballots are valid.

The ballots are the last  that need to be counted – and Johnson argues they’re key to her 13th District  race.

Republican incumbent Eddie Smith beat Johnson by 154 votes in early and election-day returns.

The only thing left to count are the provisional ballots, which include submitted forms from voters who may have lacked proper ID while voting Tuesday.

Election officials say it could be days before the provisional ballots are finalized.

ORIGINAL STORY: The race for State House District 13 is still technically up in the air, and Knox County election officials say the unofficial results won't be finalized for several days.

That's the race between the incumbent Republican state Rep. Eddie Smith, and former state Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Democrat. The district stretches across parts of South, West and North Knoxville.

Smith defeated Johnson two years ago by a margin of fewer than 200 votes, and results are shaping up to be the same this year.

Currently, Smith is defeating Johnson by 154 votes. That number includes early voting, election day votes and absentee votes.

However, the Knox County Election Commission still has 597 provisional ballots it must process.

A provisional ballot is given to voters whose eligibility has been called into question.

The Provisional Ballot Counting Board will meet sometime in the next few days and go over those ballots.

If there was no ID presented at the time of voting, the person is not registered to vote in Knox County or that person is a felon, then the ballot will be thrown out and not counted.

Smith, however, claimed victory Tuesday night after the absentee ballot count gave him that 154-vote lead.

Johnson, though, said she'll wait to concede until the remaining provisional ballots are counted.

"It's really less about the election results and more about making sure that everyone's voice is heard," Johnson told WBIR 10News Wednesday.

While the results of the provisional ballots may not change Smith's lead, Johnson said, she'll wait until that process is done to concede.

Meanwhile, Smith said he's "fairly confident that we have won this race. I feel terrific."

However, Knox County election officials aren't naming any winners until the provisional ballots are counted and all election results are officially certified on Nov. 28.

RELATED: Knox County's unofficial election results

Smith feels his win is safe.

"Looking at just the number of provisional ballots in the county, you know, we feel fairly confident just based on how those typically break down, based on history, that there won't be enough to overturn any win," he said.

Of the 597 provisional ballots, which are locked in a vault, officials say, 56 of them - called "orange ballots" - were given to registered voters who simply did not have proper ID at the polling place. Voters who received and submitted one of those have until 4:30 p.m. Thursday to bring their valid ID to the Knox County Elections Office to certify their ballot and have their vote count.

The remaining 541 provisional ballots account for people who weren't listed as registered voters in Knox County. The Provisional Ballot Counting Board - comprised of Republicans and Democrats - will work to check the name and information on each ballot with registrations to try and determine that ballot's validity.

In past presidential elections, a large majority of provisional ballots have been thrown out because they were found to be invalid.

Furthermore, not all of the 597 provisional ballots are necessarily from District 13. In order for Johnson to win, for example, 155 of those ballots would have to be valid, from District 13 and cast for her, and none of the others could be cast for Smith.

Results aside, Smith said he'll keep working toward legislation he hopes to champion in next year's legislative session.

Johnson said she doesn't yet know whether she'd run again if she loses.

Knox County election officials say they saw very few problems at the polls on Election Day and attribute that to record early voting numbers.

Close to 80 percent of Knox County voters voted early, helping the Election Day process run smoothly.

Click HERE to see Tennessee's (and other states') breakdown of votes, including county-by-county. 

(© 2016 WBIR)


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