NASHVILLE - State election officials have apologized to former Democratic Congressman Lincoln Davis, blaming a "clerical error" for his being turned away from a voting station in his home county of Fentress during Tuesday's primary.
"We apologized to Lincoln," State Election Coordinator Mark Goins, a Republican, told reporters today. "The fact is he treats Fentress County as his main residence. I've instructed the Fentress County [election] administrator to go ahead and reinstate him as a voter. Pickett County admitted we had an error."
Davis, who lost his 4th Congressional District seat in 2010, complained to the Knoxville News Sentinel on Tuesday that he was denied the right to vote in his native Fentress County. He said he has been casting ballots in the Pall Mall community since 1964.
"If I had moved here from somewhere else recently, maybe I could understand it," Davis told the newspaper. "But a former congressman, a former state senator and civic leader ... and nobody even notified me I'd been taken off the rolls."
He added: "Now I know how the black man must have felt a hundred years ago."
Goins said this is how the error happened: Davis has homes in Fentress and Pickett counties. Davis cites his primary residence as Fentress for general voting purposes. He is also a property owner in Brydstown in Pickett County, where he can legally vote in city elections.
But Pickett County's election administrator mistakenly listed Davis as a residence voter in that county. When purging duplicate registrations statewide, Goins said, because Pickett County listed Davis as a resident voter as did Fentress, state officials purged the older Fentress registration.
Davis, who showed up late in the day in Fentress, was told he couldn't vote there. Goins said when Fentress County officials called him Tuesday, he got Davis' number.
"So I called him ... and said, 'Lincoln go vote [a provisional ballot]. We'll work this out. If in fact, there's an error on our side - and there has been - if in fact there's an error on our side, we inform the local county and your vote will be counted.' Of course, at this time, Lincoln - he didn't want to go."
Davis questioned the situation.
"Why is it now that we're making it harder for people to vote?" he was quoted saying.