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(Election Integrity) Activist Alleges Abuse Of Power (Against TN Republican Secretary of State) [View All]

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Fly by night Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-30-09 11:02 AM
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(Election Integrity) Activist Alleges Abuse Of Power (Against TN Republican Secretary of State)
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(front page, above the fold, lead story, banner headline)
Skyler Swisher, News Editor
Columbia Daily Herald, June 30, 2009

Fly A Maury County political activist says the secretary of state used the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation as a tool to intimidate him because of his efforts to advocate election reform.

But a spokesman for Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett says the secretary was only concerned about what he deemed to be a possible threat of violence.

The dispute started when Bernie Ellis, a resident of the Fly community, referenced a civil uprising called the Battle of Athens, TN in an Internet post on June 18. Five days later, two Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents from the Columbia office arrived at his farm to question him about his comment, Ellis said.

Ellis said the agents told him they had received a complaint of a "terrorist threat against a government official".

Jerri Powell, a TBI spokesman, confirmed Hargett filed a complaint with the TBI about a threat but wouldn't say whether it was classified as terrorism-related. Powell said agents determined after their interview that an investigation did not need to be opened.

Ellis belongs to the citizens' group Gathering To Save OUR Democracy and has been urging the state legislature to switch from electronic voting equipment with no paper trail to paper ballots that would be read by optical scanners. Ellis said he viewed Hargett's complaint as an effort to intimidate him and squelch dissent.

"This has nothing to do with anything I had done of a threatening nature, and everything to do with an effort to silence me by using the TBI in ways that were both inappropriate and setting a bad precedent," Ellis said.

Ellis said the officers were "cordial" during their questioning, and he has "nothing but respect" (for) agents who were just doing their duty.

The Battle of Athens, which happened in McMinn County in 1946, involved World War II veterans and other citizens taking up arms to prevent local political bosses from stealing an election, according to an article in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. The ex-GIs traded gunfire with supporters of the political machine for nearly six hours eventually laying siege to the jail where the sheriff and 50 deputies had sought refuge with the ballot boxes.

Ellis said he referenced the Battle of Athens because it is an example "there aren't too many options available to us" when votes are not being counted the way they are cast.

Blake Fontenay, a spokesman for the secretary of state, said Hargett never asked TBI agents to visit the farm. He said Hargett merely notified law enforcement of the posting "out of an abundance of caution".

"In this day and time, whenever you have got someone referencing a violent uprising which is what the Battle of Athens was, a violent uprising against the government you have to sort of wonder..... He was just trying to be cautious," Fontenay said.

Ellis' Internet post was in response to a Knoxville News Sentinel article detailing the defeat of a bill that would have postponed changing the state's voting equipment until 2012. In 2007, the General Assembly passed a bill requiring counties switch to paper ballots by the 2010 elections.

In his comments, Ellis wrote,"If your readers will email me ... I will send them several handouts that document the misinformation campaign that is attempting to keep our elections unsafe and tamper-prone. We need to nip this nonsense in the bud, or we need another Battle of Athens (TN) sooner rather than later."

Ellis said he is investigating the possibility (of) filing criminal charges against the secretary of state. "This kind of unbridled power and arrogance cannot go unchecked.", he said.

(Here is a highlighted insert that accompanied the article)

The Battle of Athens (This is how the Tennessee Blue Book, a publication by the Tennessee Department of State, describes the Battle of Athens.)

Returning servicemen and women helped to bring about a crisis of the old political order in Tennessee. In the town of Athens on August 1, 1946 primary election day a pitched battle occurred between ex-GIs and supporters of the entrenched political machine in McMinn County. For over six hours the streets of Athens blazed with gunfire as armed veterans laid siege to the jail where the sheriff and 50 "deputies" had holed up with the ballot boxes. This so-called "Battle of Athens" actually represented an opening salvo of a statewide political cleanup, in which reform-minded opposition challenged local bosses and machine politics. The GI victory demonstrated to Congressman Estes Kefauver and other up-and-coming politicians that the old strategies of boss control in Tennessee had finally become vulnerable.

A few comments:

The Columbia Daily Herald news editor (Skyler Swisher) who wrote the article is the first Tennessee journalist to use the phrase "paper ballots" correctly throughout the article. He also seems to have intentionally left "secretary of state" un-capitalized throughout the article.

This article may appear on the AP wire shortly I certainly hope so. It will appear on the web-site by mid-afternoon today.

The Fly General Store has already sold out of the papers (probably, in part, because I bought four copies.) I have also been stopped by a dozen neighbors (so far) to thank me for refusing to remain silent over what is obvious to all of them was an effort by a corrupt politician to intimidate me. I reminded my neighbors that I drink every day from the same spring that "Bull-Head" Kelly drank from all his life. (That is another story, for another time.)

If we never stop fighting (and speaking truth to unbridled power), we will not lose.
We are the ones this country has been waiting for.

Bernie Ellis, Organizer
Gathering To Save OUR Democracy

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