Tanya Henderson Martin defeated Mayor Don Mull for the final Alcoa City Commission seat by five votes in Tuesday’s election, becoming the first African-American woman ever elected to the position.
While Election Day votes were cast Tuesday, it wasn’t until Wednesday morning that the outcome was determined. Absentee ballots were the decider.
The final tally, with all votes totaled, is 1,682 for Martin and 1,677 for Mull.
With all precincts reporting on election night, but absentee votes still being counted, Martin trailed Mull by one vote, 1,643 to 1,644.
When all votes were included, incumbents Clint Abbott Jr. and Vaughn Belcher finished in the top two spots with 2,049 and 1,966 votes, respectively.
On Wednesday evening, Martin said her thoughts were still absorbing the magnitude of the victory — a win she didn’t know was hers until that morning.
“I feel gratitude. I feel humble that people would have cast their vote for me, have the confidence in me that I can do a good job,” Martin said, reflecting on the outcome. “I’ve been living for this opportunity to give back to the community and I’m excited. I’m excited to see where this is going to go.”
Martin’s thoughts also were of gratitude for her supporters.
“I give thanks. There are a lot of people behind the scenes who put in a lot of hours giving out our handouts, making phone calls and knocking on doors. I didn’t get here by myself,” she said.
It wasn’t until her granddaughter wanted to know why she hadn’t learned about the victory firsthand from her grandmother that Martin learned of the election result.
“I didn’t find out until my granddaughter called me this morning. She asked why I didn’t tell her that I’d won. I said because I didn’t know. She said, ‘The Daily Times says you did’ on its website. I said, ‘I guess they wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.’”
Tuesday evening, before the final tally was known but the count was very close, Martin said she would be “thrilled” to become the first African-American woman ever on the commission.
“We all deserve a voice and a seat at the table,” she said. “I would be thrilled if it was me or anyone else bringing representation to (the commission).”
While still at the Blount County Democratic Party election watch party election night, Martin said, “Win, lose or draw, I’m glad to have this many votes and have this kind of representation out voting.”
She said the closeness of the vote at that time showed it was time for a change.
“I think this shows that I’m not alone in that,” she said.
Mull wishes luck
Mull has a long record of public service. He has been on the Alcoa City Commission since 1971 and has been mayor since 1983.
“I just wish them luck, and I’m proud of my time and what we did while I was on the commission,” Mull told The Daily Times early Wednesday. “I guess the one thing I’m going to miss is going to all the meetings.”
Mull said he will not seek a recount, despite the close result. In that regard, he was in concert with Martin, who on Tuesday night while the result was still in doubt, vowed not to seek a recount, no matter the outcome.
In other races, Maryville City Councilmen Tommy Hunt, Fred Metz and Andy White were re-elected in an uncontested race, each with more than 7,000 votes.
Louisville Mayor Tom Bickers and Aldermen Robert Gormley and Angie Holley also won uncontested re-election races.
Several Blount County voters complained about receiving improper or incomplete ballots on Election Day.
On Tuesday, two voters contacted The Daily Times to say they had received incorrect or incomplete ballots.
Ed Cherry, 82, said he was at the Maryville College precinct Tuesday morning just before it opened. According to Cherry, he was one of the first three voters to go through the polling place, but was not given an opportunity to vote in the Maryville City Council or Board of Education elections.
“I got done with all the state and national stuff and it brought me to a screen to review my votes,” Cherry said. “I asked (the poll worker) for help and he said he’d talk to the commissioner when she came by.”
According to Cherry, Blount County Administrator of Election Susan Hughes came by the poll while he attended an appointment and was gone when he returned. Cherry then went to the Election Commission office to request a new ballot and was given a form to file a written complaint.
“This is one of those things that just have to be corrected,” Cherry, 82, said of his experience. “People who should care a whole lot more about this don’t seem very concerned.”
Cherry said he also reached out to the city of Maryville but was told the city does not run the election so it couldn’t help.
“I get that it’s not on the city, but I wasn’t allowed to vote in an election where I’m a citizen,” Cherry said. “I think it should be taken very seriously by the candidates and the officials in charge.”
Steve Wildsmith, former entertainment editor at The Daily Times and resident of Blount County, called Tuesday evening after his wife, Tess, said she received a municipal and school board ballot for Maryville at the Eagleton Middle School precinct.
Tess Wildsmith, who is not a resident of Maryville, voted in the elections, later realizing the ballot was out of place.
Another voter at the Eagleton precinct complained in a Facebook post that she also had been presented a ballot with the same Maryville races, but did not vote as she thought it was erroneous since it did not match what her husband and neighbor had seen on early ballots.
In an email Wednesday afternoon, Hughes offered the following to The Daily Times:
“Properly managing election day is always my first priority. We had a very overwhelming turn(out) yesterday,” she wrote. “I am happy to review any complaints voters would like to submit to this office in writing. I have attached the form or they may simply write a letter or send me an email.”
A digital version of that form is available with the online version of this story at www.thedailytimes.com.
As of Wednesday evening, Hughes had not returned several calls and messages left by The Daily Times on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Election Commission also struggled to produce final election results Tuesday night.
All 33 county precincts had reported by around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, at which point reporters were told absentee ballots would be counted and final numbers would be ready in an hour or two.
Final numbers were not ready until 12:45 a.m. Wednesday, leaving candidates in elections with narrow margins, like Alcoa’s City Commission race that was ultimately decided by five votes, uncertain until Wednesday morning.
Hughes told a reporter for The Daily Times at the Election Commission on Tuesday evening that the delay was due to a board that oversees absentee voting choosing to alphabetize ballots before counting them.