Jul 22 2006
06:29 am

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Knoxville Center LLC has asked Knox County to remove the Knoxville Center mall voting location. The Knox County Election Commission has offered to work with them to address their concerns re. campaigning at the mall, but they sent a letter demanding the voting center be closed.

This doesn't seem wise. It might give the impression that the company doesn't value democracy. This would be a company that benefits from the largess of taxpayers by way of infrastructure and roads and interstate exits and interchanges and signs and police and fire protection and who knows what all incentives they got to build there. Yes, we realize it's private property, but shoppers there are taxpayers and voters. They have a choice where they shop. Why inconvenience them?

The County has been leasing space there since 1993. Presumably they pay rent. (Maybe they don't, I don't know.) The Knox County Clerk's office offers a variety of government services there. Why should one service, voting, be excluded?

Shutting down a polling place in East Knoxville in the middle of an election would be bad news, too. Does a corporation even have the power to do that? Is there political pressure at play? Who would want to inconvenience (disenfranchise?) East Knoxville voters? Will Federal Marshals show up at the mall to enforce voting rights?

If there are candidates or campaign workers violating election laws, or creating a disturbance on private property, have them arrested. Don't punish law-abiding voters. If opponents of the candidates are complaining to manufacture controversy for political reasons, tell them to contact the Election Commission and file a complaint, then hang up the phone. Don't allow yourself to be manipulated or pressured into showing favor at the expense of voters.

This sounds like a really bad PR move to me. Better PR would be for the company to work out a compromise and promote their good corporate citizenship and service to the community. Merchants there might also appreciate having the increased foot traffic the voting center generates. A compromise is the win-win-win for everybody.

tennesseevaluesauthority's picture

Mall PR

Are the 2006 local elections going to go down as some of the strangest in history or what? Now we can add a corporation threatening to take legal action against the county if it doesn't shut down a polling place in the middle of an election to the list of oddities. If Cas Walker and Victor Ashe someone end up in elected positions by November, I won't be surprised.

I love this bit from the mall attorney's letter (as printed in the KNS): "The installation of a polling place is outside the scope of the permitted use of the premises. Therefore, landlord demands that tenant immediately remove the polling place from Knoxville Center."

Does this mean the landlord was unaware of the installation of a polling place on the premises for most of the previous decade? I wonder how that escaped their notice up to this point? That was a bold and sneaky move by the election commission to secretly place voting booths there without advertising their intent each and every election. Heh.

Simon Properties' PR machine is certainly gearing up. Last night I happened to catch a story (we'll not call it "news") on WVLT-8's 11 p.m. newscast. A fearless reporter filed a story on a "great way to beat the heat" for the whole family. Go the art museum? No. Stay home and play Scrabble? No. Take a trip to the library to stock up on reading materials? No.

Gather up everyone and head to "the mall." Yes, let's go! Many of the locals interviewed were grateful for the mall's air conditioning and conveniently air-conditioned movie theatres also inside "the mall." "The mall" in this case was West Town (also owned by Simon).

Most likely this story was generated by a press release from Simon Properties sent out to the local media with helpful tips on how locals can "beat the heat, get some exercise, socialize with neighbors" It's never a bad idea to get a story like that on TV the night before the newspaper is going to report your plans to disrupt local elections.

bill young's picture

my thoughts on the matter

I was a member of the Morristown Plaza Merchants Association & I have passed out campaign cards on election day at the polls.Knoxville Center has always been a tough place for small bidnesses to make a buck.I believe the merchants of Knoxville Center feel that the roughly 20,000 that voted early at the Mall in the '04 Nov. election is good for bidness but,I also believe, the merchants feel that controversy is bad for bidness.Futhermore,is the letter sent to the Knox County Clerks office by the Mall owners lawyer,definitive or is the letter stating the consequences of continued controversy.My understanding is,state law only requries early voting to be conducted @ the Courthouse.The law was passed to give counties discretion in the matter of early voting sites.Simply put,Knox County's need for early voting sites is not the same as Hancock County.Therefore,if the law is narrowly construed,the convience to the voter may not be defined as disenfranchising the voter.However,I also know from experience,that in local elections a volunteer,with a smile,passing out campaign cards can get a candidate votes.The reason is many voters come out to vote for local candidates they are kin to or go to Church with or work with or went to school with or are just friends of ect. Many times I have given a voter a campaign card for a candidate they came to the polls knowing little or nothing about & when they left the polling place giving me a thumbs up.Thats a vote my candidate didn't have until I gave them a card.Finally,with respect to the controversy @ Knoxville Center..I would have made the choice not to pass out literature,however defned,in order to keep Knoxville Center as an Early voting site.

zoomfactor's picture

Privatization shows its ugly side

Hell, my polling place is in a church, which is also private property. Does this mean that all privately-owned sites with voting booths are vulnerable to owners that may have an issue with how the election is going? I can't boycott the "Knoxville Center" because clothes are incredibly cheap there!

bill young's picture

election day precincts

my understanding is that there is a prescribed method,per state law, on how a county election commission can close an election day precinct & it takes a while to do point is that i believe that the discretionary nature of the law does not offer the same protection for early voting sites.

Paul Witt's picture

No candidates have violated

No candidates have violated any law regarding any early voting site.  This is a private property dispute.  The mall says that candidates cannot hand out literature in the mall but the law says that they can after 100ft.  State law is in conflict with the mall's property rights.

Candidates are stuck in the middle, not causing the problem.  Exposing the problem maybe, but not causing it.

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