Message No. 1 is a clear majority of voting members of the Cleveland and Bradley County populace do not want a wheel tax. An unofficial count of 75 percent “against” and 25 percent “for,” subject to certification by the Bradley County Election Commission, makes that point quite plain.
Message No. 2, one that our newspaper has driven home in prior opinion pieces, is that every vote counts. That includes each ballot, whether it is cast early, by absentee or on Election Day at the polling places using one of those electronic voting machines. It includes all paper ballots. It includes all provisional ballots assuming voters using this process return to the Election Commission Office with their proper form of identification ... which they should have had with them when first visiting their rightful polling place.
Doubters of the “every vote counts” philosophy have at least four references from Thursday’s election from which to seek counsel — Ted Bryson, Nicholas Lillios, Todd Gardenhire and Greg Vital.
For those not following the headlines, here’s why.
Including early votes, absentee ballots and Election Day voting, Cleveland businessman Lillios leads retired Oak Grove Elementary School principal Bryson 801-800 in the Bradley County Board of Education race for District 3. However, three provisional ballots cast by voters who did not produce valid personal identification at the polls have yet to be included in the total. Provided the three voters visit the Bradley County Election Commission Office to show proper identification by 4:30 p.m. Monday, their ballots will be counted and included in the total.
Depending on whether the voters show proper ID by the Monday afternoon deadline, and depending on how they voted, either Lillios will retain his lead, Bryson will overtake him or conceivably the result could even be an 802-802 tie. Again our point, EVERY vote counts.
Gardenhire and Vital are candidates in the Republican Primary seeking their party’s nomination for the new 10th Senatorial District whose eventual winner will be selected in the State General election Nov. 6 against Democratic opponent Andrae McGary, a Chattanooga city councilman.
At the close of the night and with all precincts reporting in both Bradley and Hamilton counties, Gardenhire held only a 15-vote lead. A few provisional ballots and some overseas military absentee ballots in Hamilton County remain to be counted, according to reports. Neither candidate is claiming victory nor conceding defeat until the final ballot is counted regardless of its origin.
It is a wise mindset.
Vital won the Bradley County vote whose unofficial returns showed a count of 2,586 to 1,817 for a difference of only 769 votes. Gardenhire offset his loss in Bradley with a win in Hamilton County of 6,178 votes to 5,394 for a difference of only 784. The combined result is a mere 15-vote margin with an undetermined number of provisional and military absentee ballots still outstanding.
For a political race involving parts of two counties, a 15-vote difference is incredible. For a political race involving an entire school district, a one-vote margin is mind-boggling.
Does Ted Bryson believe every vote counts? Absolutely.
Does Nicholas Lillios feel each ballot carries weight? Unquestionably.
Does Greg Vital relish the importance of each registered voter? Without doubt.
Does Todd Gardenhire understand the urgency in reaching out to an entire voting public? To quote a familiar political face, “You betcha!”
Let none doubt the power of the single vote.
Let no one ever discount the importance of the general electorate nor its composition of individuals.
And as for the message behind that wheel tax rejection? We’ll have more to say on another day.