This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 19, 2020, to say that Ben Farmer is a local architect, not an attorney.
PIKEVILLE, Tenn. — A divorce filed in the summer of 2019 in Bledsoe County, Tennessee, indirectly led to an Aug. 6 general election ballot with its lone contested race pitting husband and wife against each other for the county school board seat she'd held for eight years.
In a 154-101 vote total, Bledsoe County resident and local architect Ben Farmer unseated the incumbent, his wife, Stacy Holman Farmer, an attorney.
The reasons he ended up running against the mother of his three children go back a year ago to when he filed for divorce last August, according to court records.
Both were reluctant to comment.
"I ran for the school board for my community in the Fourth District to bring the vision and values back to the board that I think that have been lost," Ben Farmer said of the race.
He said he felt the board wasn't taking the direction people in the district wanted to go and that their votes reflected that.
Stacy Farmer said the husband-wife race was "not a newsworthy item nor material to the election."
"Mr. Farmer was successful, and I hope the board continues to advocate for the betterment of our students," Stacy Farmer said in an email to the Times Free Press. "I am proud of the accomplishments of the school system as a whole during my service as a board member.
"I appreciate the confidence placed in me by the citizens during my eight-year tenure. It was a privilege to represent the citizens of my district and to serve with a number of caring board members and exceptional administrators, teachers, and staff," she said.
The road to the ballot battle began when Ben Farmer said he checked in May to see if Stacy Farmer had filed qualifying papers to run to keep her school board seat and she had not, so he picked up qualifying papers to run for the post and filed them, he said.
At some point, Stacy Farmer also picked up and filed qualifying papers to run for reelection, resulting in the District 4 school board contest.
According to Lisa Wheeler, Bledsoe County administrator of elections, while the husband-wife race was unusual, it didn't affect voter turnout.
The total turnout in the District 4 school board race was 255, about normal for an August local ballot with so few contested local races, Wheeler said. Across the county, turnout totaled 1,872 on Aug. 6, also about normal for a slow summertime election, she said.
"It's evident from the votes he got and the votes she got that voters liked them both," Wheeler said Friday.
Races involving contests between more distant family members happen sometimes in a small community, she said, but she could not remember another occasion when a husband and wife or siblings vied for the same seat.
There are other examples of such match-ups nationally.
In 2015 in Bremerton, Washington, resident Kim Faulkner challenged her husband, incumbent Ron Runyon, for the City Council, sparking the NBC News headline, "'I Do' Want to Unseat You." She did not make it to the runoff election, in which Runyon was defeated by challenger Richard Huddy.
In 2013, NBC's TODAY reported on a Republican husband and Democratic wife in Waterville, Maine, who decided to run for the elected post of warden because no one was seeking it. The warden is a position that involves assisting poll workers on Election Day, requiring just two days' service a year, TODAY reported.
David and Jennifer Johnson "ran against each other as a joke," Jennifer Johnson told TODAY in 2013. The Democratic wife won by a 127-76 margin over her GOP spouse. Her victory speech was, "I won," Jennifer Johnson said. The concession speech? "Congratulations. I'm glad the person I voted for won," David Johnson told his opponent as they sat on the couch at home.
Back in Bledsoe County, Wheeler predicted a larger turnout when voters cast ballots in the presidential election in November.
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.