Controversy ensues in Benton County following election commission changes

BENTON COUNTY, Tenn. — Controversy in Benton County after major changes were made in the election commission.

“I’m not sure why you would go against the will of the people in order to disturb things that are working well,” said Matt Jones, Chair of the Benton County Republican Party.

The Benton County Election Commission is made up of five appointed members — three Republicans, and two Democrats.

The process is complicated, but essentially, names have to be submitted to the state election commission by the county’s representatives.

The state election commission then appoints the members of the county election commission.

The Benton County Republican Party recommended the names of the three members who were already on the commission.

But Benton County Mayor Brett Lashlee and another official recommended three different names, leading to conflict.

“Those were definitely at odds with what we wanted. We hope that they’ll do a good job, but we’re concerned mainly with any attempt to remove our administrator,” Jones said.

“I’m in favor of turnover. I don’t believe anyone gets a lifetime appointment. Just because people are on that board doesn’t mean they’re not replaceable,” Lashlee said.

Eventually, the state election commission chose the three recommendations that Lashlee helped submit.

WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News contacted the state elections office. They said in the case of different recommendations, the state election commission decides.

They said there was a potential conflict of interest with Jones making a recommendation, since his brother works in the election office.

The letter also says Elections Administrator Mark Ward falsely claimed election officials were not correctly appointed.

“We hate that the previous election commissioners were removed, but right now, we’re concerned about the administrator being removed,” Jones said.

“You’re going to have a board that is completely new, with no history of elections,” Ward said.

And now the attention shifts to Ward. In a commission meeting last week, hundreds attended and spoke out in Ward’s favor.

Ward says he has served Benton County properly.

“I was born and raised here. I’ve been in business my whole life. I’ve been the Administrator of Elections. I see people. I see people all over this county on a daily basis, and everybody knows how I live my life,” Ward said.

Lashlee accused Ward of not being impartial.

“I don’t really care if he’s liked by both sides. If he’s bringing judgement upon the role, then everybody loses,” Lashlee said.

Ward defended himself.

“I don’t care how you vote, I don’t care how you run. I just make sure that you get put on the ballot if you get the right amount of signatures, and I make sure all the votes are counted properly,” Ward said.

And whatever happens will have long-term ramifications for Benton County.

Lashlee says that he will let the new election commission make their own decision about Ward.

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