By Scott Robertson and Jeff Keeling
Updated 1:16 a.m. May 7: Challenger Tom Foster was declared a winner early Wednesday in the Sixth District Washington County Commission Republican primary, relegating incumbent Mark Ferguson to fourth place in a three-winner race. The reversal came a few hours after Foster had supposedly placed fourth and Ferguson first. Foster said Washington County Election Commission officials blamed a software glitch.
Foster ran first in the hotly contested race that was seen as a bellwether in a divided county election between supporters and opponents of Mayor Dan Eldridge, who was handily re-elected Tuesday. Foster and fellow challenger Tom Krieger campaigned in the sixth with incumbent Joe Grandy, and against Ferguson, the de facto leader of a commission contingent that has generally opposed Eldridge during his first term.
Foster said the results on the Election Commission website surprised him because “the numbers that were on the election day votes did not match up with what — I carried everything on election day.”
“When the early voting numbers didn’t match, it didn’t make sense,” Foster said shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday. That surprised me, and I was ready to concede that I lost, and others said, ‘there’s something not right, they need to check that.’ They asked the Election Commission to look into it and Mr. Ruetz (Election Commission Chairman Jon) called me and said it was a software glitch, they got it corrected and I had won.”
Foster said he was pleased the mistake had been rectified and excited about the prospects for progress in Washington County. Foster, Krieger and Grandy, along with most other GOP primary commission winners, will face additional opponents in the August general election.
“I think that with everything that’s happened in Washington County with the Commission races, we have a great mayor, and I think we have a Commission that will support the mayor and we can move this county forward.”
OUR EARLIER STORY
11:50 p.m. May 6: They ran as a ticket in the Washington County Sixth District County Commission primary, and as of midnight Wednesday, Joe Grandy, Tom Krieger and Tom Foster still believed they might all be winners — despite election results showing incumbent Mark Ferguson leading the ticket and Foster on the outside looking in.
Ferguson is the de facto leader of opposition to County Mayor Dan Eldridge, and the sixth district race was closely watched. Observers included Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe, who was among those funding a political action committee working to oust Ferguson.
Wolfe said that Foster led all vote-getters in election day voting, and that the results showing Ferguson with very similar vote totals to Grandy and Krieger seemed odd to him and others.
“The evidence that we saw today from the election site returns does not jive with what you’re seeing in the early vote totals,” Wolfe told the News & Neighbor around 9:30 Tuesday night. By 11:30, Wolfe had tallied written totals from each of Washington County’s 40 precincts, which showed on the Election Commission website as 580 for Ferguson and 297 for Foster.
“You add up Foster’s vote on election day and you add up Ferguson’s vote on election day, which was posted on the door of each precinct, and it is clear from the County Election Commission website that they have the totals reversed,” Wolfe said.
Overall results posted on the Election Commission website for the district, both early and election day, showed Ferguson leading the ticket with 1,606 votes, followed by Krieger with 1,521 and Grandy with 1,510. Foster’s total showed as 703 — until it didn’t.
Several minutes later, at approximately 11:42 p.m., the Sixth District results were taken down from the Election Commission website. Just before that, Wolfe had said he would leave nothing to chance.
“I’m going to take pictures of these sheets on each door tonight to make sure a record is preserved,” Wolfe said. “It stands to reason they’ve done the same thing for early voting.”
“It appears they’ve made a big mistake. If that turns out to be the case I hope they correct it.”