Polk County election worker resigns over alleged racial remark

photo Polk County, Tennessee, Elections Administrator Steve Gaddis
Arkansas-Wofford Live Blog

BENTON, Tenn. - A Polk County election poll worker has resigned after an inquiry into the alleged use of a racial slur during the recent primary.

On Thursday, Polk County Election Administrator Steve Gaddis and the Polk County Election Commission had planned to interview South Polk Elementary poll workers regarding the incident, which reportedly happened at the polling center on March 6. No poll workers attended the meeting.

However, Gaddis read aloud a resignation letter submitted by poll worker Fred S. Wilcoxon.

"As a result of the alleged allegations, I have decided to remove myself as a precinct worker," Wilcoxon wrote.

"I believe he made the right choice," said Gaddis.

The inquiry was a response to complaints voiced by Oldfort resident Diane Wilson, who said a poll worker uttered a racial slur in the presence of her biracial elementary-age son.

Wilson said the incident occurred when some of her friends took her son to the school's polling station so he could observe the voting process. Her friends told her afterward that "an older male" had directed a racial remark at her son while they waited to vote, she said.

The problem got worse when she phoned Gaddis the day after the event and he offered no apology and did not bother to ask for her name or phone number, she said.

"Mr. Gaddis' comment was - and I quote - 'Well, sorry, but this is the South and this happens here,'" Wilson told the election commission during its March meeting.

At the meeting, Gaddis stated that, when he asked Wilson whether the person uttering the racial slur was a poll worker or someone standing in line, she had told him she did not know.

Representatives of the NAACP questioned election officials on whether Wilcoxon would be allowed to serve in future elections.

Wilcoxon might be eligible to play a voluntary role in future elections but not necessarily in a paid position, pending election commission approval, said Gaddis.

Tennessee codes should prohibit Wilcoxon's participation as a poll worker, said Lawrence Armstrong, president of the Bradley County branch of the NAACP.

Armstrong and Polk election officials agreed to research the specific election regulation that would prohibit Wilcoxon's return to poll service and address the issue at the commission's next meeting.

After Thursday's meeting, Wilson said she was disappointed, citing March 19 correspondence sent to her and Gaddis from Mark Goins, coordinator of elections for Tennessee.

The letter advised that it was the opinion of the state's Office of Elections that, if Thursday's inquiry determined that an election official had used derogatory language, that official should not be appointed to work in future Polk County elections.